India on Tuesday doubled import duties on 328 textile products to 20 per cent, the second such hike in a month, as the world’s largest cotton producer sought to curb soaring imports from China and focus more on local value addition in the labour-intensive sector.
A report in the The Indian Express stated that the move comes amid mounting concerns that a trade war between the US and China would further aggravate dumping of cheaper products from the world’s second-biggest economy despite a weak rupee.
This step of the Government comes as almost light at the end of the tunnel for the weavers of the North East, especially for the weavers of Sualkuchi in Assam who are being affected by the strong winds of free market economics. Customers who value authenticity and tradition still exist, but overall sales have inevitably been affected by cheap substitutes (read cheap Chinese silk which is flooding the market). This trend in turn affects wages while the cost of the raw material, the silk that is woven, continues to rise. The weavers are having a difficult time to cope with this transition. The sudden influx of cheap Chinese silk is making it difficult for the weavers to keep the home fires burning. The invasion of Chinese pat is creating chaos in the silk industry of Assam.
Since the Chinese pat is artificially weaved, more production takes place within a short period of time compared to the hand-weaved indigenous silk. As a result, people tend to go for them as the market price is quite less compared to the superior quality traditional silk. The market is flooded with such low quality Chinese silk which is a huge blow to the cottage silk industry.
Weaving is a craft which is practiced in almost all the households in Assam and in several northeastern States too. However, elsewhere in Assam, weaving is a part-time job but, in Sualkuchi, it is a full-time vocation. The weaving industry of Sualkuchi was also badly shaken and stirred when cheap Banarasi silk products, complete with the traditional motifs of Assam, flooded the market in 2013 and were being sold locally, at much lower prices than their Assamese counterparts. This was a push-comes-to-shove moment for the already struggling indigenous weaving community. Following massive protests, the Assam Government asked for a ban on the sale of Banarasi products.
The report further stated that the said move of the Centre would encourage domestic marketing. The textiles industry stated that the move would help promote ‘Make in India’ as imports of these goods had surged drastically in the last one year especially post-GST.