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July/August 2009

Global Textile Trade and One Developing Country

Standards and Textile Manufacturing in Pakistan

Cotton occupies a unique position in Pakistan’s agrarian economy because textiles and textile products are a leading export. With standardization activities made possible by close international cooperation, the country has the potential to become a key player in the global cotton and textile markets.

We cannot imagine a world without textiles; they are an indispensable part of life to clothe, protect, embellish and insulate the human body.

Pakistan is the fourth largest producer of cotton in the world. Cotton, textiles and apparel are critical agricultural and industrial sectors that contributed 8 percent to world cotton production in 2004-2006. Despite constraints in its production, storage and ginning sectors, Pakistan’s production of cotton yarn increased at an annual rate of 4.7 percent during 1990–2005 and its share of world output increased to nearly 10 percent.

The combined cotton-yarn-textile-apparel sector is critical to Pakistan. The sector, which accounts for an average 60 percent of exports, captures 46 percent of the entire manufacturing sector and 38 percent of industrial employment; it also provides critical rural income.

However, the industry faces challenges in moving forward. Pakistan has cheap labor, but this advantage is riddled with questions about worker skills and the myopic view of the entrepreneur. Recently, the minimum wage was raised from Rs 3000 to Rs 4000 per month (from US$50 to US$66). This intervention, according to the spinning industry, increased its costs by 75 billion Rs, yet Rs 4000 is not a living wage. Motivation to work under such circumstances suffers.1,2

Pakistani industries also face the challenge of remaining competitive with the elimination of the World Trade Organization Multi-Fiber Arrangement quotas on textile and apparel trade. Due to Pakistan’s efforts to process fibers into yarn, fabric, garments and textile made-ups, Pakistan’s textile fiber exports to Canada, the European Union, Norway, and the United States have declined from 34.4 percent in 2002 to 20.7 percent in 2006. However, the shares of textile yarn, fabric, etc., and clothing and accessories remain high, and the combined ratio increased from 52.9 percent in 1990 and 68.6 percent in 2007.1

Standards and Textile Exports

The journey of an exported textile product is like a road trip: it can be long and arduous, but strategic stops along the way help keep everything moving smoothly toward a satisfying destination. Often, these stops involve testing according to standards: Pakistani and British standards and those of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), ASTM International and the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists. The goal is to ensure that the consumer will be completely satisfied with the quality and safety of the end product. If the consumer is happy, then everyone else along the way — retailer, manufacturer, testing laboratories, government agencies — will be happy as well.3

Given the variety of textiles currently exported into the United States from Pakistan, the end product could be the shirt you’re wearing, the sheets and bedspread in your home, and the fabrics and components of your clothing. When a major U.S.-based retailer decides to carry a certain clothing line, it will often cite a specific performance specification to bidding Pakistani manufacturers. Once the chosen manufacturer completes the work, a laboratory will test the product to make sure it meets cited specifications. When imports reach the United States, U.S. Customs and Border Protection uses both ASTM and AATCC standards to identify and test products coming into the country. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission, through its Care Labeling Rule, requires manufacturers and importers to attach care instructions to garments, which can include symbols that signify garment care; the symbols must be those in ASTM D5489, Guide for Care Symbols for Care Instructions on Textile Products.3

The Pakistani cotton industry has realized the importance of conformity assessment and is identifying target markets that would benefit from the country’s testing and certification bodies. Most groups are certified to ISO 9001, Quality Management Systems Requirements; Pakistan textile labs are accredited by ISO/IEC 17025, General Requirements for the Competence of Testing and Calibration Laboratories, and Pakistan textile inspection bodies accredited by ISO/IEC 17020, General Criteria for the Operation of Various Types of Bodies Performing Inspection.4

Surveying the Textile Sector

To determine Pakistan’s upcoming textile standardization needs, a questionnaire sent out in February surveyed 79 Pakistani textile organizations, including testing laboratories, industry groups and educational institutions. The survey included questions about standards awareness and implementation, standardization needs and conformity assessment needs.

The results show that testing labs performed 714,357 tests in 2008, and the standards usage was 40 percent ISO-EN, 31 percent ASTM, 25 percent AATCC and 4.0 percent Pakistan Standards. The data indicates that the testing business is in the hands of multinational (96.66 percent) and local laboratories (3.2 percent); public sector laboratories (0.14 percent) have a nominal share. Most facilities use ASTM and AATCC standards, and the buyer selects the test methods.

The Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority has developed 448 Pakistan standards and adopted 343 ISO standards as PS:ISO 4. PSQCA has adopted and adapted most of the standards from ISO and conformance against ISO standards are acceptable in the EU and other regions so the overall acceptability of PS:ISO standards worldwide are up to 44%, and the remaining gap for the United States is covered by ASTM and AATCC standards.

The survey indicates that small- to medium-sized enterprises’ understanding of standards and conformity assessment is very low and that SMEs face such dilemmas as to which standards apply, how to acquire them, who can provide an official translation and whether the local laboratory is recognized for a test. More than 90 percent of Pakistani textile and apparel companies are SMEs and face this kind of problem daily — a problem that may take so much time to overcome that it is potentially worse than any additional taxes or other market access barriers.

According to those surveyed, the level of awareness about implementing standards is significantly low in industry, especially in SMEs. Organizations doing business locally are almost unaware of standards, their importance and benefits, and they are unaware of existing training and awareness programs. We believe that standardization should be producer- and user-friendly by ensuring that standards are available to protect the user or final consumer but not by placing unnecessary burdens or costs on the producer. Above all, standardization should not be a tool to enrich testing institutes if detrimental to industry, especially SMEs.

A lack of awareness extends to new fiber and yarn technology developments, which are rapidly expanding the scope of the textile industry. Survey respondents pointed out that most textile engineering and technology curricula do not include such emerging textile technologies as nonwovens, technical textiles, coatings, micro-encapsulation, plasma treatments, spraying and ink jet techniques, nanotechnology and standardization related to textiles.

Education also needs an effective feedback system. It is important to measure, among other things, what skills graduates use the most while working in the industry, what skills are required for success, what skills would increase effectiveness and what leads to failure in a particular area. Customer-driven adjustments should be made in the curriculum to match industry needs; quality manufacturing also depends on teaching methodologies and practices and their application at manufacturing plants.

In many cases, there are no courses on quality management, productivity enhancement, energy conservation, cost and waste minimization, and ecological and social accountability issues. In addition, delivery is mostly through lectures with little active participation by students in the learning process. Students are left with lots of information but little knowledge and real-world problem-solving skills. More students should be exposed to real-life industrial settings through supervised internships. Excepting a few leading universities, institutions offering textile-related degrees lack adequate equipment for practical hands-on training.

Probably the most difficult task regards ongoing human resource development, especially in SMEs, that is needed to stay competitive. To address this situation:

  • The number of training programs must increase and the quality must improve to be in line with world quality requirements;
  • Trainers must undergo training to bring them up to a competitive level;
  • A skilled labor force may be temporarily imported that is product-specific, but this requires the identification of skill shortages; and
  • A new labor force has to be developed to meet market exigencies and ensure continuity.

In Conclusion

Standards should not be used as nontariff barriers to trade. There are currently not too many mandatory standards in Pakistan’s textile and apparel field, which is good because voluntary standards are already much more practical and user-friendly, are more likely to be developed free from political pressure, and will be more fitted for their purpose. Only when health and safety issues are involved should standards be mandatory.

The harmonization of standards is highly desirable in this era of growing globalization, especially if it is truly a two-way street and not simply a means by which certain countries or regions sell surplus goods at low prices in other areas. So let us, in these key areas of health and safety, try to limit the number of mandatory standards and then try to harmonize them to mutual advantage. There will be cases when this can be achieved through ISO standards, but if this is the case, allow ISO standards to be adopted unchanged rather than for Pakistan Standards to be derived from the ISO standards and stated to be “similar,” which creates all sorts of difficulties when potential exporters seek to determine where those differences may lie.

In view of questionnaire responses, it is recommended that PSQCA adopt ASTM D13 standards as national standards to avoid any ambiguity for users. And, the survey results demand awareness programs for all stakeholders about standardization in collaboration with ASTM International.

1. Cororaton, C.B., Salam, A., Altaf, Z., Orden, D., Dewina, R., Minot, N., Nazli, H., “Cotton-Textile-Apparel Sectors of Pakistan,” IFPRI Discussion paper 00800, 2008.
2. Ministry of Textile Industry, Government of Pakistan, “Research and Development Support Analysis,” Report 1.ODR-07/12-R&D, 2008.
3. Wilhelm, R., “D13 Standards Pave the Way for Imports to the United States,”
4. Afzal, S., “Proceedings of U.S.-Pak Workshop on Standards and Conformity Assessment,” Pakistan Standards & Quality Control Authority Proc-IA & Tr/1/2007, 2007.


Shahzad Afzal, Ph.D., director of the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority, has 17 years of experience in R&D, analytical method standardization, certification (systems and products), accreditation, project management and teaching. Afzal is a Higher Education Commission approved Ph.D. supervisor, his name is in the list of productive scientists of Pakistan and he is the author of more than 28 international publications and 74 project reports. He is a member of ASTM International Committee E60 on Sustainability, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Conformity Assessment Committee on ISO/IEC 17020 and ISO/IEC 17021, and the editor of research journals.

Muhammad Yasin Akhtar, deputy director, PSQCA, handles the activities of international affairs and training, standardization and accreditation of inspection bodies in the PSQCA Standards Development Centre, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of Pakistan. He has more than 10 years of professional experience in textile industry, standardization and quality assurance. He is a member of ASTM Committees D13 on Textiles and E60, and the ISO CASCO Committee on ISO-17024.

Khurram Mateen, assistant director, PSQCA, handles the activities of international affairs and training, standardization and accreditation of inspection bodies in the PSQCA Standards Development Centre, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of Pakistan. He is a member of ASTM International Committee E60 on Sustainability, the ISO CASCO committee, the Pakistan Engineering Council and the Society of Quality and Technology Management.

Farina Shahzad has been involved in research and teaching since 1996 and has taught chemistry and management courses in various institutions. She has also actively participated in quality surveys of science and technical education. She is a member of Chemical Society of Pakistan and author of more than five international publications.