SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Nov. 28) - For the seventh consecutive month in October, Saipan garment factories' apparel sales dipped to their lowest levels since 1996, CNMI Customs Division statistics show.

"It is upon us. If we do not make a concerted effort to do whatever it takes to jumpstart this business, there is no reason to believe we can continue to contribute what we have in the past to this local economy, service companies and employees for both the private and public sector," Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association executive director Richard A. Pierce said.

The SGMA reported sales of $61.8 million, while the CNMI Customs Garment Division's Office collected $2.28 million in user fees for the first month of FY 2004.

Compared with this past September's sales and collections, October figures were down almost 13 percent; compared with last year's October activity, they dropped 12 per cent.

Industry sales figures for FY 1999 were $1.07 billion, $1.01 billion in 2000, $965 million in 2001, $831 million in 2002 and $796 million in FY 2003. SGMA forecasts another drop in sales and contributions to the local economy in 2004.

"Our chances to accurately predict sales and contributions lessen the closer we get to the end of worldwide quota restrictions into our customer base area, the U.S. domestic market," Pierce said.

"We've seen already, that the closer we get to December 31, 2004, the more likely any changes coming from the United States with respect to the already feared end of the 10-year phase-in period for the World Trade Organization's (WTO's) General Agreement for Tariff and Trade (GATT) will affect those predictions we wish we could make".

SGMA, just like tourism industry leaders, has been active in trying to convince local leaders of the urgency and timing for addressing any economic factors, which could assist in protecting and preserving the Saipan garment factories.

November 28, 2003

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