“Chraibi says that his operation has never been so efficient, but this is no time to relax. Times have been hard since European markets opened last year to Asian clothing exporters, who have lured clients from Moroccan rivals undermined by weaker logistics, reliability and costs .New, computerized sewing machines at Chraibi’s factory stitch fabric together in record time. His employees are trained to perform at least five different tasks, making production methods more flexible and avoiding illness-related production stoppages .”Once I had 12 girls doing 100 pockets per hour,” Chraibi said. “Now I have one girl doing 200 pockets per hour.” . “But of his 35 million to 45 million dirhams, or $4 million to $5.2 million, in annual turnover, Chraibi said that only around 5 percent to 7 percent ended up as profit. In the past, his profit margin was as high as 30 percent .Moroccan textile exports tumbled last year after European quotas for African producers, which in effect limited the amount of Asian exports to the European market, were mostly removed .The plunge showed Morocco’s reliance on Europe, which takes 92 percent of its textiles, and raised fears for the future of a sector that accounts for 40 percent of manufacturing exports and employs 40 percent of the manufacturing work force .The textile sector represents 9 billion dirhams, or 4 percent, of gross domestic product in a country struggling with unemployment and poverty .In recent months, exports have begun to recover as buyers in Britain, Spain and France look again to Morocco because of its proximity .”China can’t fulfill just-in-time orders for Europe as it’s too far and fuel costs are too high,” said Lamiya Ismaeli, director for textiles and leather at the Ministry of industry and Trade .Tailored clothing exports grew 12.3 percent and hosiery 9.6 percent in the first five months of the year, but were still down 3 percent and 15 percent respectively from 2004 . “Chraibi, who is also head of institutional and social relations at the national textile lobby Amith, said: “Everyone is chasing the minute that risks being lost, every second. Everyone is becoming more conscious of reactivity.”To encourage big brands like Levi Strauss, Diesel and Zara to make Morocco one of their main supply bases, the government is offering to help finance new investments and has slashed duties on imports of raw materials and accessories .A new port that is scheduled to open next year in Tangier will offer cheaper transit to Europe and the United States, and a free trade zone nearby will allow companies to import material and re- export finished clothes free of tax .But analysts said that the biggest threat to Morocco’s textile trade might also hold a key to its future success. Chinese companies may soon set up shop in Morocco to be closer to European clients and to take advantage of U.S. import quotas that Morocco won recently under a free trade agreement, they said .Officials say that the sector could export 40 billion dirhams’ worth of clothing within five years, up from just over 24 billion dirhams’ worth in 2004. However, problems still dog the industry .Most Moroccan textile employees work illegally, receiving wages in cash from companies that keep no records of working hours .That has turned into a big competitive disadvantage now that Western shoppers are looking more at who made their clothes and under what conditions .At the other end of the scale, companies that follow national laws complain of being hamstrung by time-consuming administrative procedures and rigid labor rules. Two years ago, Morocco increased its minimum wage and cut the working week .”Then they introduced mandatory health insurance, which puts another 5 percent on your overheads,” said John Reynolds, a partner in JC Services, a small maker of boiler suits, chefs’ jackets and other work wear for Britons that is near Rabat .”It all adds up to make Morocco very unattractive to foreign investors.” . .Jobless rate falls in Morocco . “The number of unemployed in Morocco has fallen below one million people for the first time in 13 years, the government has announced, Agence France-Presse reported from Rabat .There were 879,000 people registered as unemployed at the end of June, or 7.7 percent of the active population aged 15 and over, against 1.23 million unemployed, or 11.1 percent of the population, a year earlier, Morocco said Wednesday .Source: Herald Tribune .