Guatemala on Tenterhooks as Vietnam Targets Export Surge

GUATEMALA CITY — “They have found a ridiculously cheap factory in Vietnam, one that is 40 percent cheaper than us,” sighed Martin Hong, sales and production director at Guatemalan apparel factory Elim, which is, like most other of the country’s manufacturers, scrambling for ways to beat the fast-growing Asian garment exporter, now tackling $200 billion in exports by 2035.
“We cannot fight with them, especially in price. We need to focus on speed to market and better fashion,” he said.
Hong said Elim, which has Korean owners like many other Guatemalan garment suppliers, has frozen plans to double production to two million pieces annually to meet U.S. clients’ surging demand, which has Guatemala’s 220 top apparel factories rushing to meet orders.
Fresh off a New York flight where Hong met a New York-based client, which he would not reveal due to confidentiality agreements, he said Elim will wait before boosting output to see if its Vietnamese rival — Fashion Garments or FGL — can make better products, although he said the firm is seeking other potential customers.
“They [the client] have a very cheap factory in Bangladesh that makes basic T-shirts but has limited capacity. They said the Vietnamese plant can produce just as cheaply but

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