Interview with Mr. Fernando Valente Pimentel, current CEO of the Board of Directors of the Brazilian Textile and Apparel Industry Association (ABIT)
- Please let us know more details about ABIT, its history and its success story.
Pimentel – The Brazilian Textile and Apparel Industry Association (ABIT), founded in 1957, is one of the most important class entities among the country’s productive sectors. It has been an example of a productive association during its 65 years of history, celebrated in 2022.
It is one of the most active class entities in the country, with wide recognition on the national and international scene. It is totally committed to align the sector with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and is a signatory to global actions in defence of labour dignity, participating, among others, in the initiative of the International Labor Organization (ILO).
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ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) principles guide the sector’s transition to Industry 4.0, supported and guided by the association. ABIT is also part of several initiatives in Brazil and of multilateral organizations, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The entity also actively participates in global initiatives with the IAF (International Apparel Federation), ITMF (International Textile Manufacturers Federation) and Global Fashion Agenda, in line with global sustainability guidelines for the textile sector.
In Brazil, we strengthen the companies in the sector, helping to improve products in all segments of the textile and clothing industry, providing information and training, in addition to defending companies agendas vis-a-vis the government. We promote all Brazilian textile and fashion products around the world, aiming to increase exports.
- How many members do you have?
Pimentel – Abit represents the productive force of more than 25 thousand companies installed throughout the national territory, of all sizes, which employ 1.5 million workers and generate, together, an annual turnover of R$ 194 billion (2021 estimate). Of this total, around 2.500 are textile companies and 23.000 are apparel companies.
- Which sectors are more powerful in the Brazilian textile industry?
Pimentel – Both the textile and apparel segments are of great importance. They are the precursors of the Brazilian industry and today they are among the manufacturing sectors that most seek to add technology and innovation, in the path of social, environmental and economic sustainability.
Globally, however, our Jeanswear segment receives great prominence, as we are one of the five largest producers in the world. As well as our bed, table and bath segment, which is among the major producers. Brazilian fashion is also very strong in beachwear, fitness and sportswear.
Other segments have been gaining international markets, such as our women’s, men’s, children’s and underwear.
- Textile industry is one of the most important sectors in Brazil and it is a well-known textile country. Why textile industry is so important for Brazil?
Pimentel – The Brazilian textile and apparel sector is important for innovation, technology, design and sustainability. It generates and maintains numerous jobs and is distributed throughout the national territory.
It employs many women (more than 75% of the people working in the activity) and is the second-largest generator of the first job within the manufacturing industry. Because it is intensive in human resources, it generates enormous jobs opportunities throughout the Brazilian territory, with more than eight million people orbiting directly or indirectly around this industry.
- Tell us more about the statistics of export and import goods in the Brazilian textile industry.
Pimentel – To measure the foreign trade of our sector, let us take the results of the first four months of 2022, when exports were US$ 396.3 million, meaning an increase of 29.61% compared to the same period in 2021 by the increase in sales to neighbouring countries, such as Argentina (+36.2%), Colombia (+61.64%) and Peru (+56.8%).
Imports grew 9.82%, reaching US$ 1.89 billion. The increase was influenced by the average price of foreign products in the period (+38.9%) and by the participation of clothing, which went from 28% to 35% of the imported value.
Even with the expansion of purchases having been much smaller than that of sales in the flow of foreign trade, there is a deficit in the trade balance, which was U$S 1.49 billion in the four-month period.
The specific indicators for April show a 5.83% growth in imports compared to the same month in 2021, reaching US$ 369.1 million. So far, April was the month that registered the lowest volume of imports in the year, 36.1% lower than in March 2022. Exports were US$ 107.85 million, up 20.13%, also in relation to 2021.
- How do you evaluate the support of Brazil’s government for the textile industry?
Pimentel – We have a republican relationship based on technical, economic and regulatory guidelines with the Three Powers. Many of our suggestions have already been accepted by different governments, while others have been rejected.
Today, our priority agenda for the public sector is a tax reform that turns Brazil’s tax system that less onerous for society and the productive sectors. We also defend a simultaneous administrative reform of the State that can make it more productive, efficient and modern. Both proposals are being processed in the National Congress.
The legitimate civic and political mobilization of the entity, along with other class institutions in the country, contributed to relevant achievements, such as the labour reform, Gas Law, extension of payroll exemption and reduction of IPI (Industrialized Products Tax), for example.
On the other hand, government agencies and bodies have specific programs to support those who want to export (Apex-Brasil), invest in innovation and technology (ABDI) and project financing (FINAME) and investments (BNDES), not only for the textile sector but for the entire Brazilian industry.
- Tell us more about Abit missions and plans to accelerate Brazil textile industry to international markets.
Pimentel – We maintain a successful partnership with ApexBrasil (Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency) named Texbrasil (Brazilian Textile and Fashion Industry Internationalization Program), created in 2000. Its purpose is to support and prepare companies in the sector, with the development of strategies to conquer the global market.
Since its launch, it has helped around 1.600 brands to get on the export trail, doing US$ 9 billion in business. Among the actions carried out, we highlight meetings with international buyers and journalists, participation in fairs and events around the world, training initiatives in innovation, sustainability and design, and conducting research and market prospecting.
- How do you evaluate the textile and apparel sector in Brazil in terms of sustainability and quality certificates?
Pimentel – Brazil has a great advantage in terms of environmental impact, since, in addition to the use of clean energy matrices (hydroelectric, wind, solar and biomass), the country’s environmental laws are among the strictest.
Most companies reuse water, have modern effluent treatment centers and, in recent years, have reduced the use of water in production by around 90%, as a result of research and applied technology.
The use of waste or its correct destination has grown very strongly, making the circularity of products an increasingly frequent reality. Brazilian companies have national and international certifications that meet some ESG or quality aspects: ABVTEX Seal, ISO 9001, 140001, 16001, 5001, 9004, Oeko-Tex, and BCI, among others.
- The Middle East and Africa are growing markets for the textile industry, do you have any plan to expand your export to this region? Do you have any activity in the MENA region market?
Pimentel – the Middle East and Africa are important markets for the textile and apparel sector. The expected population growth for the region should make it one of the main consumers of clothing in the next 30 years.
Currently, our sales to the region are still not significant, corresponding to around 3% of the total exported by Brazil in terms of textiles and apparel. However, we aim to grow in these markets, and for the next two years, we have planned to prospect initiatives to better understand them and seek to expand our presence in the region.
- How do you evaluate 2022 for Brazilian textile companies?
Pimentel – The Brazilian textile and clothing industry had revenues of R$ 194 billion in 2021. In comparison with 2020, the production of textiles (inputs) increased 12.1% and clothing, 15.1%. Clothing retail grew 16.9%. However, this expansion was still not enough to recover the numbers of 2019, the last year before the beginning of the pandemic.
In 2022, we continue to face difficulties, as there are still lingering impacts of the pandemic and the new geopolitical crisis in Eastern Europe. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reduced supply and generated price pressures for various products and inputs.
We have just surveyed Abit’s member companies, which provided an overview of persistent difficulties. The international situation, marked by the lockdown in China and the conflict in Ukraine, as well as its consequences, has already directly affected the costs of 77% of the companies consulted. Sixty-five percent of the deponents reported some difficulty in supplying inputs and raw materials, either because of lack of items, increase in international prices, logistics or transport.
One of the difficulties pointed out, representing the main obstacle for 29% of respondents, is the rising cost of energy in Brazil. As for inventories, more than 70% of companies have volumes of raw materials and inputs sufficient to maintain production for more than a month.
On average, it is possible to sustain operations in a period of 45 to 60 days. Most of the inputs and raw materials affected by the difficulties in obtaining and price pressure came from China (71%), as a result of the lockdown.
Despite these difficulties, we expect an average sector growth of 1.5% in 2022, in real terms.
20 Facts About Brazilian Textile and Apparel Sector (2019)
1- Textile and Apparel Chain Revenue: USD 47,1 billion
2- Exports (excluding cotton fiber): USD 3,6 billion;
3- Imports (excluding cotton fiber): USD 5.3 billion, versus USD 5,7 billion in 2018;
4- Trade balance (excluding cotton fiber): negative USD 1,7 billion, versus negative USD 2,8 billion in 2018;
5- Investments in the sector: USD 3,6 billion, versus USD 3,2 billion in 2018;
6- Average apparel production: 9,04 billion pieces (apparel + socks and accessories + home textiles), versus 8,9 billion pieces in 2018;
7- Average textile production: 2,04 million tons, versus 2,03 million tons in 2018;
8- Workers: 1.5 million direct employees and 8 million more if indirect employees and income effect are added, 75% of which are women;
9- 2nd largest employer in the manufacturing industry, behind only the (joint) food and beverage industry;
2nd largest first job creator;
10 – Number of companies: 25,5 thousand nationwide (legally registered);
11- Fourth largest producer and consumer of denim internationally;
12- World’s fourth largest producer of knitwear;
13- Accounts for 16.7% of employees and 5.7% of Manufacturing Industry revenues;
14- Brazilian fashion is among world’s the five largest Fashion Weeks;
15- We have over 100 fashion schools and colleges;
16- With the discovery of pre-salt layer oil, Brazil will no longer be an importer, becoming a potential exporter for the world’s Synthetic Textile Chain;
17- Brazil is still the only complete Textile Chain in the Western world. Only Brazil still has everything from fiber production, such as cotton farms, up through fashion shows and spinning mills, weaving mills, processors, apparel manufacturers and a strong retail segment;
18- A nearly 200-year-old industry in the country;
19- Brazil is the largest complete Textile Chain in the West. Only we have everything from the production of fibers, such as cotton, to fashion shows, spinning, weaving, processing, apparel and retail;
20 – Brazil is an international reference in the design of beachwear, jeanswear and homeware, having also grown in the fitness wear and underwear segments.