LAHORE: Exports of hand-knotted carpets are declining due to shortage of skilled labor, expensive raw materials and higher cost of business.

The indifferent attitude of successive governments has also played a key role in the downfall of the carpet industry, which was once vibrant and attracted buyers from all over the world.

Exports of handmade rugs have been in continuous decline since peaking at $350 million in the late 1990s. The export of hand-knotted rugs was less than $60 million during of the last fiscal year. For the last two or three years, carpet exports have been around 50 to 60 million dollars. Out of more than 150 exporters, 10 major players obtain more than 70% of total carpet exports.

At the end of the 1990s, the carpet exports of its great rival, India, were only 100 million dollars, far less than Pakistan. Today, India is the number one carpet exporting country in the world. Turkey is also far ahead of Pakistan in carpet exports.

Despite making huge amounts of money for nearly two decades, many exporters made little or no investment to improve the lives of local artisans who mastered the art of weaving rugs from patterns. Persians.

They [exporters] preferred Afghan refugees to local craftsmen to reduce labor costs. These Afghan refugees were experts in weaving Kazakh-designed carpets. Gradually, local artisans, mainly from Gujranwala, Faisalabad and Lahore divisions, sought employment in different industries due to exporters’ preference for Kazakh designs over Persian designs.

Carpet exports suffered a setback, as many Afghan craftsmen returned to their country after the Russians left Afghanistan. Exporters, however, have linked up with Afghanistan-based weavers, started supplying yarn and sourcing unfinished/unwashed rugs.

Today, Kazakh designer rugs woven by artisans based in Afghanistan account for 80% of total exports, while the remaining 20% ​​is for Persian designs woven by locals.

More than 100 units manufacture carpet yarn in Multan district. About 70-80% of the wool imported from Saudi Arabia, Iraq and New Zealand is blended with the local material to make the yarn.

The main reason for importing wool is quality, which varies from region to region. High quality imported wool is mixed with local wool to obtain a superior quality yarn.

The carpet industry faces many challenges, including dependence on imported raw materials, indifferent attitude of successive governments, import duties on unwashed and unfinished carpets, and lack of separate status, as carpets currently fall under the textile sector as a sub-sector.

“Overall, textile exports are increasing, but the situation is quite opposite in the carpet sub-sector. It goes from bad to worse. Government support is essential to revive the carpet industry which has the potential to bring in huge foreign exchange to the country,” said Mian Attiq-ur-Rehman, Managing Director of Pak Shalimar Carpets, one of the leading exporters of hand-knotted rugs. the country.

Referring to the causes of the drop in carpet exports, he said, the local industry has not followed the global trend.

“The global trend is changing. Machine-made rugs are now in great demand. High-tech machine weaves are as good as knots made by an artisan,” he said, adding that the government should help exporters switch from hand-knotted to machine-woven rugs.

“The government should create a carpet city, provide land easily and help exporters get bank loans for importing necessary machinery and raw materials,” he said.

Pakistan should learn from the Turkish model, he said.

“Turkey has made leaps and bounds. He created a carpet city and facilitated the importation of machinery for the industry. The shift from hand-knotted rugs to machine-made rugs has proven successful for Turkey. Today, Turkey’s carpet exports amounted to $1.56 billion,” he said.

For Attiq-ur-Rehman, recognizing carpet as a separate industry and providing facilities according to its own requirements is the need of the hour.

“The requirements of the textile and carpet industries are different. The textile sector is eligible for subsidies for gas, electricity and export financing. But the carpets do not consume much electricity or gas. As such, most facilities in the textile sector are of little or no value to carpet exporters,” he said.

He suggested a sales tax exemption for importing unwashed and unfinished carpets from Afghanistan to give a much-needed boost to the neglected industry.

“Unfinished and unwashed carpets imported from Afghanistan should be treated as raw materials. We process these rugs before they are exported,” he said, adding that the sales tax exemption could help increase exports of finished rugs.

Ijaz-ur-Rehman, CEO of Saad Oriental Carpets, a leading exporter of hand-knotted rugs, said business-friendly policies and government support are essential for reviving the ailing carpet industry. .

“The high landing cost of imported raw materials due to inflation and rising transportation costs has made it difficult for exporters to compete in the global market,” he said, adding that the government should step in to give the mat much-needed relief. industry.

According to Ijaz-ur-Rehman, the government should set up a city of carpets, provide land at easy installments, grant tax exemptions and loans on favorable terms for the duty-free import of machinery to pass from hand-knotted rugs to machine-woven rugs.