Total apparel export turnover was estimated to increase by 35.6 percent year-on-year and reach 5.1 billion USD in the first five months of the year, according to the Vietnam Textile and Garment Association.

Dang Phuong Dung, general secretary of the association, said that the US , Europe and Japan markets were the strongest consumers. However, revenues were down due to soaring material prices and labour costs.

The challenges facing the country's apparel industry were Turkey 's "self-defence" tariffs on textile and garment products imported from Vietnam , and Malaysia 's "self-defence" tariffs on fabric products, Dung said.

In the first four months, Vietnam 's apparel exports reached 3.8 billion USD, rising over 30 percent against the same period last year, with an increase of 17-18 percent in volume and 12-13 percent in price.

"With 17-18 percent output growth, Vietnam 's garment and textile sector maintains its competitive position on the world market and retains its market share," said Le Tien Truong, standing deputy general director of the Vietnam National Garment and Textile Group (Vinatex).

Last year, Vietnam 's apparel exports fetched 11.2 billion USD.

While the country's garment exports surged, there were also positive signs in the domestic market, with the expansion of major producers such as Viet Tien and Nha Be, Dung said.

The price of imported cotton had a significant impact on domestic production, as Vietnam did not produce enough raw materials.

Prices went up to 5-5.2 USD per kilo, an increase of 80-90 percent compared to the same period last year, Truong said. This caused businesses to shift their focus towards exports to balance foreign currencies so they were able to import raw materials.

However, they faced another obstacle in the form of additional port fees. "If there is an imbalance between exported and imported items in the containers, shipping agents will charge for the difference. This is a very unreasonable fee," stated Le Van Han , Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association deputy secretary.

He explained that Vietnamese firms used to buy in CIF (Cost, Insurance and Freight) prices and sell in FOB (Free on Board) prices, so they had to depend on the provisions set by carriers.

In addition, economic experts from the Central Institute of Economic Management, as reported by the Thoi bao Ngan hang (The Banking Times), said that there was a shortage of skilled labourers in the textile industry. New production technology required high-skilled employees so cheap labour was no longer an option.

The industry is also facing other difficulties such as complicated administrative procedures and power shortages.

Thoi bao Ngan hang also reported that 74 percent of businesses had to use at least three people and 163 days to complete procedures related to tax and customs.

"Prolonged power cuts, especially in the summer, force businesses to use generators to serve 30 percent of production, which is very costly," Han noted. /.