Tunisia: the vanguard of nearshore manufacturing

Tunisia flags on blue

The PCIAW® and OCO Global have partnered to promote the innovative Buy Tunisia initiative, closely working together to unite UK workwear suppliers, buyers and Tunisian workwear manufacturers from across a broad spectrum.

On Wednesday 27 January 2021, the PCIAW® and OCO Global jointly presented a webinar of international proportions: Tunisia – the UK’s nearshore partner for professional clothing manufacturing.

The webinar featured insightful commentary on both challenges and opportunities in the UK and the compelling capabilities of the Tunisian manufacturing sector. A consortium of expert panellists from across the professional clothing industry shared exclusive advice and information on this exciting endeavour. 

The PCIAW® was honoured to host the esteemed dignitaries, Nabil Ben Khedher, Tunisian Ambassador to Great Britain and Edward Oakden, British Ambassador to Tunisia, who displayed an unwavering commitment to promoting mutually beneficial opportunities for the UK and Tunisia. 

A panel of globally renowned experts

Our panel of leading experts included Simon Hunter M.B.E, CEO of Hunter Apparel Solutions, Adam Mansell, CEO of UKFT, Hosni Boufaden, Nafaa Ennaifer, and Mehdi Miled from the Tunisian Textile Federation, Abdelbasset Ghanmi, General Director of Foreign Investment Promotion Agency (FIPA), Chiheb Ben Ahmed, CEO of CEPEX (Tunisian Export Promotion Agency), Tarek Ben haj Ali and Maher El Kissi from Workman Group and Richard Jessup and Francisco Aguiar, Sales Directors at Gerber Technology.

The UK workwear market imports an estimated €250m of product per annum, with an increasing trend towards reliable, high-quality nearshore manufacturing options.

Yvette Ashby, Founder and CEO of PCIAW®  moderated the webinar in conjunction with Colin McCullagh, Director of UK & Ireland from OCO Global. The webinar began by addressing the effects of the pandemic on the textiles and manufacturing industry, which emphasised the necessity of secure supply chains across the world. 

The opportunity of using Tunisia as a nearshore manufacturing base offers a prescient solution to UK businesses who are reorganising their structure to meet challenges. The PCIAW® works with businesses across the professional supply chain, from manufacturers, distributors, and service providers, sourcing mutually beneficial opportunities for members across the spectrum.

Offshoring and quality

The UK workwear market imports an estimated €250m of product per annum, with an increasing trend towards reliable, high-quality nearshore manufacturing options. Tunisia presents an ideal manufacturing base for UK workwear suppliers and buyers. 

Simon Hunter M.B.E informed us of the necessity of high quality manufactured products as a baseline expectation, along with competitive costing. The CEO of Hunter Apparel Solutions Limited advised our audience that offshore manufacturing requires an emphasis on customer service, agility and flexibility.

Tunisia has a natural geographic advantage in its relative proximity to the UK and a dynamic textiles and manufacturing industry.  

Adam Mansell, CEO of UKFT, emphasised that Brexit presented unprecedented opportunities for nearshore manufacturing. Brexit has caused a rapid coming to terms with the intricacies of the Brexit trade deal. The reality is that a frictionless border between the UK and Europe does not exist; a significant proportion of trade is subject to import and export duty. However, trade between the UK and Tunisia is tariff-free as long as the product meets the rules of origin requirements.

Adam outlined the sheer importance of understanding trade flow and intricacies. Companies will be required to fulfil certification requirements for rules of origin. Import VAT is applicable to all products imported to the UK. Most companies are registered so the process should be relatively straightforward. It is important to note, however, that import VAT will be incurred on UK companies when importing.

Colin McCullagh outlined the role of OCO Global as a bridge between the UK and Tunisia. OCO operates in a specialist area of international trade and foreign investment, helping companies and governments with international ambitions. OCO has worked on behalf of the UK Department of International Trade and with the North African Technical Assistance Facility, run by TertraTech and funded by the UK for over 2 years, in conjunction with CEPEX. OCO’s role is to facilitate trade between the Tunisian textiles sector and the UK by selecting companies with unique capabilities suited to the UK market. OCO has also created a sourcing site for UK companies to view Tunisian manufacturers and hopes to include the workwear market by pairing with PCIAW® to explore new possibilities.

Esteemed dignitaries: Tunisian Ambassador to the UK and British Ambassador to Tunisia

The Tunisian Ambassador to the UK, Nabil Ben Khedher, spoke on the timely nature of the webinar with the signing of the UK-Tunisia Association Agreement. The Tunisian workwear sector has over 116 companies, with many producing exclusively for export. As many as two-thirds of these companies are run or owned by foreign investors. The Tunisian workwear sector has boomed since the 1980s, when competitive production costs, adherence to international standards, and a highly-skilled workforce set the sector apart.

The Tunisian workwear sector has boomed since the 1980s, when competitive production costs, adherence to international standards, and a highly-skilled workforce set the sector apart.

The Tunisian economy is heavily export-based, with the textiles and apparel sector accounting for up to a third of total exports. Both the UK and Tunisian government are keen to forge a closer partnership post-Brexit, and the textiles sector has been selected for its strong potential to develop trade between two geographically proximate countries. 

A number of Tunisian manufacturers have adapted to niche markets, one example is the workwear market. Governments are keen to develop links between the two countries and address potential issues to facilitate collaboration.

The British Ambassador to Tunisia, Edward Oakden, spoke on the Embassy’s efforts to unite not only at the political level but also at an economic level by facilitating trade and forging partnerships. The key instrument for taking this relationship forward is the UK-Tunisia Association Agreement, which extends provisions of the EU agreement with Tunisia. 

The Ambassador spoke about efforts in Tunis and the Department of Trade in following operational leads to ensure a smooth transition. 

The Tunisian workwear sector: resiliency and agility

For the Tunisian Textile Federation, workwear has been a strategic priority in their efforts to diversify markets. Nafaa Ennaifer and Mehdi Miled are members of the Management Board for the Tunisian Textile Federation. Nafaa Ennaifer described the resilience of the workwear sector, which has seen a consistently high performance unscathed by a recession. Mehdi Miled concurred, elaborating on Tunisia’s efficient customs system which helps companies export faster, due to a clearance system for imports which takes place in factories, not harbours. 

He spoke on the strategic position of Tunisia, with its high responsiveness and flexibility catering to market demand and compliance of exporting companies with a host of international standards. Tunisian manufacturers work in diverse textiles subgroups and are renowned for high quality and excellent customer service skill. Many Tunisian companies are vertically integrated, which compresses cost and improves flexibility to work around short delivery times due to a faster replenishment process.

As the General Director of FIPA, Abdel Basset Ghanmi spoke on Tunisia’s geostrategic position in the Mediterranean area; just a few hours’ flight away from the UK. Tunisia has secured FTAs with Morocco, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey; its regional and international integration is evident in its inclusion in 54 bilateral agreements to protect investments. A Trade and Political Continuity Agreement was signed between Tunisia and the UK in October 2019. Tunisia ranks as one of the highest countries with industry-specific staff, skills, and productivity levels. It boasts a dedicated infrastructure of two hundred industrial areas and nine international airports. Tunisia benefits from a friendly business environment, offering freedom of investment in many sectors, simplified procedures of implementation, and the freedom to transfer profits and capital gains.

A hub of international exporting

Chiheb ben Ahmed outlined that nearly 90% of Tunisian textiles are exported to international markets – the Tunisian workwear sector offers profitable trade for UK markets. Worth €1.38 billion, the textiles sector is the second-largest exporting industry. 

Despite the onset of the pandemic, the sector offers strong opportunities for partnership, as 45% of active companies in Tunisia are present with 100% foreign capital. With over 40 years of experience, the Tunisian export sector has developed expert know-how through promotional events, partnerships meetings, and sustained financial and technical support.

The PCIAW® is looking forward to continuing a fruitful dialogue on nearshore manufacturing opportunities with OCO Global, sharing this useful information with its members. 

Tarek Ben haj Ali and Maher El Kissi from Workman Group, a workwear company with 400 employees spoke on the competitive production costs in Tunisia and the ability to manufacture large quantities for big markets. When it comes to communication, there is no language barrier to worry about and optimal digital connections are ideal for impromptu conference calls.

Richard Jessup spoke on Gerber Technology’s role as a technological partner for soft fabric and sewn goods in the workwear industry, helping both UK and Tunisian companies. In a consultative role, Gerber offers companies training, expertise, and relevant materials throughout the manufacturing process. Gerber’s enhanced 3D visualisation technology for visualisation accelerates the sampling process and optimises fit and to reduces the final product’s time to market. 

In response to questions on Brexit affecting freight from Tunisia, it was answered that shipping requirements and procedures should remain the same, but there will be import and export clearance procedures irrespective of where products arrive. Logistics carriers can simplify this process, but couriers will apply a Brexit surcharge if goods are travelling through the EU. In response to member demand, the PCIAW® has crafted a useful document on the Rules of Origin to mitigate confusion on importing and exporting procedures between the UK, EU, and outside countries. 

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