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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 45 - May 2005   
 The logic of the ‘leap forward’
 Profile of the Seventh Framework Programme
 Eastern outpost of the European Research Area
 The agricultural tradition
 Birth of Europe-backed research
 Out of Africa
 Campylobacteria under the microscope
 When distant worlds meet
 Coping with life on the outside
 Researchers take centre stage

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Title  Past, present, future

Close to the body, inextricably linked to our well-being, a means of expressing our personality, and present in a thousand ways in our day-to-day activities: textiles occupy a truly unique position in terms of man’s relationship with matter. One could say they are part of the fabric of human society. From the artisanal production of the distant past to the advent of modern industry, textiles have remained a field in which a flair for creativity and the search for innovation have been a constant source of inspiration and inventiveness.

Braiding machine – IFTH prototype
Braiding machine – IFTH prototype
Europe has always been a key player in the ever-changing world of textile innovation. Throughout the 20th century, it was the sector’s number one producer and trader at each of the many stages of fabric production, as well as in garment making and in the fashion industry – which acts like a dynamo for the entire sector. 

Over the past two decades, however, this industrial fortress has been subject to constant wear and tear. The competitive battle began primarily in the labour-intensive clothing sector, whole areas of which have migrated to low-wage countries. 

More recently, an even more important change, this time affecting the complete chain from fibre production to the woven finished products, has come to threaten the industry as a whole. All the systems for controlling world textile trade – known as multifibre agreements – have been progressively revised. In this respect, 2005 is a pivotal year. It marks the beginning of a new and completely liberalised world textile trade, completing the process of quota dismantling that began a decade ago during the Uruguay Round of world trade talks.  

In the new conditions of an increasingly multipolar global economy and the growing industrial strength of emerging countries – such as China, India, Pakistan and Brazil  – the textile sector seems to be a particularly sensitive point for Europe.(1)

In meeting the formidable challenge of global competition, this sector – which employs 2.5 million people in the EU-25 – will have to draw on a wide range of EU competences in the field of social, enterprise, regional and international relations policies. At the same time, attention – and the hope of saving, or rather reinventing, the sector – is turning to the research and inventiveness that Europe can harness to bounce back and remain a market leader. After the continuous innovation of the past century, there are doubtless still some surprises in store. 

(1) At the request of several Member States, the European Commission launched a procedure to implement safeguard measures aiming to counterbalance Chinese textile imports at the end of April.

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