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Obama Supports Opening The Door For Apparel Imports

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

President Barack Obama, as part of his new strategy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, is supporting bills moving through Congress that would permit duty-free  entry into the United States of some apparel products, regardless of the country of origin of their yarn and fabric. The legislation calls for creation of reconstruction opportunity zones (ROZs) along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border to help bolster the economies of that troubled area.

The US Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel (USA-ITA) has strongly endorsed the legislation, and US textile manufacturers don't seem to have any problems with it if it is effectively enforced.
In voicing her support for the proposal, Laura E. Jones, executive director of USA-ITA, said the ROZs would offer "employment and hope to people otherwise susceptible to joining terrorist groups." She said, however, the list of apparel imports benefiting from the duty-free treatment needs to be expanded because it excludes the more than 30 sensitive product categories that  until recently had "safeguard" quota controls under a US/China trade agreement. She said the list needs to be expanded to include imports of cotton knit tops and cotton trousers and shorts, saying that those products account for two-thirds of the $1.49 billion of apparel imports from Pakistan.

USA-ITA members plan to work with Congress to get the list expanded in the final version of the legislation.

Jones said offering benefits to a list of man-made fiber apparel imports but not the cotton products will not provide many job opportunities "unless the scope is amended to bring it into sync with the business realities." She said lower prices on tops and trousers made in Pakistan would benefit US retailers and consumers.

US textile manufacturers are pleased that the most sensitive product categories are excluded, at least for now. In addition, Lloyd Wood, a spokesman for the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, expressed the concern that enforcement will be "enormously difficult," and he sees the possibility of extensive mislabeling, illegal transshipments and other trade abuses.

March 31, 2009