Canadian clothing manufacturers are hoping the federal government will use Thursday’s budget to boost the number of articles bearing the ‘Made in Canada’ label by cutting duties on the importation of raw materials.
The North American manufacturing industry has struggled since free trade opened the market to clothing from abroad.
Fifty per cent of jobs in the Canadian textile industry were lost over the past decade after the federal government dropped tariffs on cheaper-made clothing from overseas, according to a lobby group representing some 500 Canadian manufacturers.
Though higher gas prices and changing attitudes have provide a recent boost to the industry, high duties remain a serious obstacle for Canadian manufacturers according to the Canadian Apparel Federation.
"You could have a garment that is made in Vancouver, or Montreal or Toronto— and you are paying up to 14 per cent duty just on fabric — so that makes you uncompetitive," said the group’s executive director, Bob Kirke.
The increasing cost and uncertainty involved in importing goods from halfway around the world is forcing many companies to reconsider imports in favour of domestic production, Kirke said.
Consumers are more and more interested in buying locally-made products, he said.
"I think that is a really positive development, because you’re essentially taking some jobs back from China," said Kirke. "I think the key is for us as an industry is to keep our costs down to the point where its not a huge surcharge to purchase domestically and that is why we've been asking the government to reduce the surcharge on raw materials."
The Gap Inc., is one clothing company that is turning to Canadian manufacturers. The company currently uses three Canadian suppliers, said senior manager of public relations Tara Wickwire.
"Definitely this is pleasing to our customers, but more importantly it reduces our carbon footprint — manufacturing in Canada," said Wickwire. "And, the serious benefit is how [quickly] we can replenish our inventory."
Tristan clothing, which has its own Canadian textile plant, has made a point of advertising its Canadian-made products.
"People want to know where it is made, they are asking us if it is made in Canada." said founder Gilles Fortin. "We have decided not only to do our product in Canada, but to say it."
Still, Fortin said manufacturers need the tariffs on raw material imports lowered.
"It is urgent. They should … [have moved] yesterday — they didn’t," said Fortin. "Today it is still possible. If they wait, tomorrow it is going to be too late."