Tunisia's hand-woven rug industry has fallen on hard times lately, as competition from factory-made carpets and low-priced foreign rugs has led to a sharp drop in production and exports of Tunisia's one-time staple in the handicraft industry.
However, the rug and weaving industry in Tunisia remains an important part of the national economy and it employs nearly 53,000 people, or about 20 percent of those employed in the craft industry.
In Tunisia, though rugs accounted for more than 40 percent of the craft exports in the early 1990s, they are now only 12 percent. Rug production has also been cut in half in the past 10 years.
Some explain this decline by competition from other countries, such as India, Iran, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Egypt and Morocco, which market more elaborate, higher-quality rugs at competitive prices, according to the newspaper Le Quotidien .
The price of Tunisian rugs is also increased by intermediaries, who charge a large commission for bringing potential buyers to the markets. Some charge a commission as high as 300 percent of the selling price of the rug.
But at the state-run national artisanal office (ONAT), the prices of the rugs are fixed based on a quality rating (first or second choice). The price of a hand-woven rug ranges from 120 to 320 dinars per square meter ($80 to $225), with tighter-woven rugs being more expensive.
An international conference was held in Tunis last year to discuss ways to increase production. The conference highlighted the need for innovation and creativity in the rug-making industry and instituted "encouragement prices" to inspire professionals and artists in Arab and Muslim countries.
A follow-up commission, made up of 11 experts in the area, is currently meeting in Tunis to evaluate the progress made by the conference.
Rugs produced in Kairouan, the headquarters of production in Tunisia, are of the highest quality and are recognizable by the "mahrab", a rhombus-shaped medallion in the center of the rug surrounded by colorful patterns.
But the rugs are expensive for even Tunisians themselves to buy. Many Tunisians living abroad bring factory-made rugs back to Tunisia with them. The mediocre rugs, mass-produced on machines, are resold locally in Tunisia for lower prices. And though they are never confused with the traditional Tunisian works of art, they may be slowly replacing them. — (AFP, Tunis)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)