Export value of garments and textiles reached 1.15 billion USD in March, making them the country's largest export earners with 3.23 billion USD in total earnings during the first quarter, the General Statistics Office reported.

The figure represents a 15.4 percent increase over last year's first quarter.

The office said garments and textiles were the only export staples that earned the country more than 1 billion USD in March, adding that it was an impressive result in the context of a shrinking export market due to the global economic slowdown.

The Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association (Vitas) said the country's textile and garment exports to traditional markets such as the US and Japan in the first quarter maintained stable growth.

The US remained Vietnam 's largest importer of the products, accounting for nearly 52 percent of the industry's total export earnings. Vitas expected that exports to the market in the next months would be optimistic as the unemployment rate in the US has been decreasing, a positive sign for economic recovery.

Exports to Japan also surged more than 30 percent as domestic exporters have continued to benefit from the tax reduction policy that Vietnam enjoys under the Vietnam-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement signed in 2009.

However, Vitas expressed concern about the export slowdown to the EU market due to the bloc's public debt crises. Despite rising by 3.5 percent, export growth to the market was low when compared with a 33 percent increase last year.

To offset the slowdown in the EU market, domestic exporters are now speeding up exports to other markets including the Republic of Korea (RoK), Russia, New Zealand, Chile and Brazil.

Exports to the RoK were impressive with a surge of 55 percent thanks to the tax reduction advantages that domestic exporters enjoy under the ASEAN-RoK Free Trade Agreement.

However, Vitas Deputy Chairman Pham Xuan Hong said that domestic textile and garment exporters were also facing fiercer competition from regional counterparts, including India , Bangladesh , Pakistan , Indonesia and Cambodia .

He said that the move of contracts in the sector from China to neighbouring countries, which had benefited Vietnamese exporters in recent years, was also decreasing as Chinese exporters currently had to accept small export contracts due to the economic difficulties.-VNA