LIMA - Seamstresses in Lima's garment district are usually busy at this time of year, with Christmas requests from vendors across the Americas. Cheap Chinese imports however are ruining their market.
Until recently the district - a 20-block area, packed with 25,000 clothing manufacturers and vendors, known as the Gamarra business emporium - was doing thriving business.
But ever since a free-trade agreement between Peru and China came into effect in 2010, and similar agreements have been signed with Colombia and others, Gamarra merchants have been hemorrhaging customers.
"We should already be working on the Christmas apparel. Colombians, Ecuadorans, Venezuelans and Brazilians come here and take everything for their stores, but up to now they haven't arrived," said seamstress Irma Cayetano.
Cayetano rents a three-square meter room in a Gamarra building for $300 a month to work as a dressmaker. But this year she's done little business.
Fellow seamstress Astrid Iparraguirre sits in front of her idle sewing machine working on a crossword puzzle.
"There hasn't been much to do lately because of clothing imports," said Iparraguirre, who has worked at Gamarra for the past five years.
Gamarra hasn't lost all of its customers: many items are still sold around Peru and across the region, including the United States.
Millions of t-shirts, for example, have already been ordered by Brazilian vendors for the 2014 World Cup.
But since July sales at Gamarra have dropped 50 per cent compared to the previous year, and the merchants have lost nearly one-third of the market to cheap Chinese imports, according to Diogenes Alva, head of the main Gamarra business association.