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After the Blaze

ABOUT 120 vehicles from Tasikmalaya, West Java, did not set out on their usual supply run. The vehicles, which transport embroidery from 400 or so businesses, did not depart for Jakarta's Tanah Abang Market after it was consumed by fire on Wednesday, two weeks ago. Truly unfortunate, for the fire on February 19--which burned down about 3,400 of the market's 7,638 kiosks--was an ill-fated omen for the Indonesian textile industry.

Tanah Abang holds a strategic position in the national textile market. According to Adi Sasono, an advisor to the Indonesian Cooperatives Board, about 80 percent of its goods are sold in domestic markets. The rest, 20 percent, enter the export market--going mostly to Nigeria. Supp- liers and traders at the market come from a number of regions. Centers of textile production which greatly depend on Tanah Abang include, among others, Tasikmalaya (West Java) and Pekalongan (Central Java). These regions supply large amounts of fabric to produce the turnover in Tanah Abang, where annual profits reach as high as Rp15 trillion.

The relationship between the market, which was established in 1735, and production centers in the provinces takes many forms. In general, merchants purchase raw material from Tanah Abang and take them to provincial factories, where they are turned into finished garments. Some then sell these at Tanah Abang, as well as in local markets. Others buy finished garments for resale. Suppliers, however, usually only distribute their goods to kiosks or sell them directly at Tanah Abang.

Merchants from Tasikmalaya are just one example. They go to Tanah Abang every Monday and Thursday, although they cancelled their Thursday trip upon hearing the bad news. The unsent goods piled up quickly, resulting in losses of about Rp2 billion. According to Ridwan Rafiun, the Chairman of the Joint Cooperative of Embroidery Producers of Tasikmalaya, this is a cumulative figure from about 400 businesses in Tasikmalaya.

Merchants from Majalaya, Bandung, are no different. About 270 small- and medium-sized textile producers there supply goods to Tanah Abang, the largest wholesale market in Southeast Asia. Fatya Natapura, a merchant and advisor to the Textile Producers Association of Majalaya, said that on account of the fire about 40,000 items must be stored in warehouses. Losses are estimated at Rp8 billion.

According to the Chairman of the Indonesian Textile Association of West Java, Drs. Lili Asdjudireja, Tanah Abang is not the only market where textile products from this region are sold. About 270 textile producers from West Java supply fabric to wholesale centers such as ITC Mangga Dua, Pasar Baru, Kramat Jati, and Cipulir, Jakarta. "But most of the supply to Jakarta ends up in Tanah Abang," he told Upiek S. from TEMPO.

For textile merchants from Pekalongan, Central Java, the impact of the fire was just as devastating. H. Arifin Oesman, the owner of PT Ariftex Batik Kisnala in Pekalongan, cannot conceal his sorrow. He has regularly supplied six kiosks in Tanah Abang. However, kiosks belonging to two of these regular customers burned down. "The losses I sustained from one kiosk is at least Rp1 billion," said Arifin to Ecep S. Yasa from TEMPO.

Syaiful, 32, a wholesale vendor of finished garments in Pekalongan's Batik market, says he lost Rp250 million when goods he sent to his customers went up in flames. His customers were unable to reimburse him. What happened to Syaiful is representative of about 150 or so small regional vendors who supply finished garments to small kiosks in Tanah Abang.

In fact, long before the fire, the Chairman of the Indonesian Textile Association, Benny Soetrisno, had already estimated a drop in the textile industry. Indonesian fabric has lost some its competitive power due to a rise in fuel prices a few years ago. He predicts that about 300,000 workers are likely to be laid off this year--compared to only 35,000 last year. The sale of exported material will probably be no more than US$ 7 billion, while last year's figure was US$6.5 billion. Undoubtedly, the incident in Tanah Abang is a severe blow to Indonesia's textile industry.

Abdul Manan, Eduardus K. Dewanto, Boby Gunawan (Bandung)

TEMPO, MARCH 10, 2003-026/P. 19 Heading National

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