By Govind Venuprasad
Ahmedabad, city of entrepreneurs, has emerged as an important economic and industrial hub in India. It is the second largest producer of cotton in India, its stock exchange is the country’s second oldest, and some of the country’s greatest entrepreneurs and philanthropists call Ahmedabad their home. Ahmedabad’s estimated gross domestic product is over US$64 billion; and Old Ahmedabad, was declared India’s first UNESCO World Heritage City earlier this year.
It was here that the investment delegation from Ethiopia, led by His Excellency, Mr. Bogale Feleke, Ethiopia’s State Minister of Industry, arrived on 18 July to meet with and encourage businesses in Gujarat State, to look towards Ethiopia’s burgeoning textiles and garments’ sector as a destination for their international expansion.
The Minister and his delegation could not have asked for a better champion for Ethiopia than Mr. Punit S Lalbhai, Executive Director, Arvind Limited; the billion dollar-plus, vertically integrated textile and garments group headquartered in Ahmedabad and an anchor investor in Ethiopia’s Hawassa Industrial Park. “We are very pleased to have invested in Ethiopia and we find the Government of Ethiopia progressive and forward thinking. Our ethos is planning for the long run, and we believe that our investment is safe and will bring rich dividends,” Mr. Lalbhai said in his opening remarks at a gathering organized by SITA in partnership with the Confederation of Indian Industry on 19 July.
The gathering brought together decision makers from across the textiles and garments’ value chain in Gujarat State. The thirst for information was palpable, further reinforced during the question time following presentations from the Minister and members of the delegation from the Ethiopian Textile Industry Development Institute (ETIDI), the Ethiopian Investment Commission, the Ethiopian Textiles and Garments Association (ETGAMA), and notable Ethiopian businesspersons. Unlike a similar event organized in Delhi on 17 July, most of the participants in Ahmedabad displayed a sound knowledge of Ethiopia, a result of the historical business linkages – the oldest business in Ethiopia with roots in Gujarat dates back to 1925. The discussion focused on concrete challenges that Indian investors face in Ethiopia rather than general enquiries raised in Delhi. Some of these challenges, according to Minister Feleke, have been addressed through new legislation introduced in 2017.
After the meeting, the delegation visited Arvind’s integrated plant on the outskirts of Ahmedabad where they observed at close quarters the journey from lint to fashion. Mr. Eyob Bekele of Desta Textile Plc described the visit as “an eye opening experience – its state of art technology is an inspiration for the Ethiopian industry’s future”. Minister Feleke added, “the visit to Arvind was beyond my expectations, I didn’t know it is such a highly sophisticated and big factory and the quality of their product is outstanding. I would like for Arvind to produce such quality branded products in Ethiopia for world markets.”
Summing up the visit, Minister Feleke said, “the interaction we had with investors in Ahmedabad was productive, we have been able to provide them information about Ethiopia’s investment potential”. Mr. Govind Venuprasad, Coordinator, SITA, added “Ethiopia is emerging as a go-to destination for Indian companies in the textile and garmenting value chains. The information asymmetries however are still a major obstacle. Our combined efforts with policymakers and trade and investment support institutions in Ethiopia are aimed at addressing these asymmetries to enable a quantum leap forward in the growth of the country’s textile and garmenting industry.”