South Africa and the Global Commodity Chain for Clothing: Export Performance and Constraints

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This paper examines the South African clothing industry's recent export performance in the light of new trade arrangements with the US and the EU. Performance has been modest, especially in the domestically-owned part of the sector. This reflects forms of path dependency induced by various historical factors as well as by enterprises' efforts to adjust to recent changes in the domestic market. Export response in clothing has also been severely constrained by the evolving nature of the South African textile sector. However, none of these factors leads inevitably to poor export performance, as is shown by the promising performance of a group of mainly foreign-owned firms that have adopted a business and manufacturing model radically different from the dominant South African one. For the domestically-owned part of the sector to significantly improve its export performance, it will have to borrow some elements of these models.