By  on July 15, 2009

WASHINGTON — Columbia Sportswear, The North Face and Patagonia are a few of the recreational performance outerwear companies that stand to benefit from a tariff-dropping bill introduced in the House and Senate.

The U.S. Outdoor Act, introduced Friday by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D., Ore.) and Greg Walden (R., Ore.) in the House and Sens. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) and Mike Crapo (R., Idaho) in the Senate, would eliminate duties on about 80 styles of imported high-tech apparel designed for hiking, biking, skiing and other outdoor recreational activities.

If enacted, the bill would save outdoor apparel manufacturers close to $600 million over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“This bill removes unnecessary tariffs on apparel not currently made in the U.S.,” said Blumenauer. “In addition, the companies that benefit from these reduced tariffs will be required to contribute a portion of their savings toward research programs that are developing ways to keep America’s apparel industry globally competitive and more environmentally sustainable.”

Frank Hugelmeyer, president and chief executive officer of the Outdoor Industry Association, the outdoor apparel industry’s lead trade and lobbying group, said the bill represents a “commitment” by lawmakers to the “6.5 million jobs in the active outdoor recreation industry, the economic viability of the thousands of outdoor businesses across the country and the millions of Americans seeking healthy and active lifestyles through outdoor recreation.”

The bill would also establish a Sustainable Textile and Apparel Research Fund that could generate an estimated $110 million in grants over 10 years. The bill sets up a competitive grant process that is overseen by the five-member STAR board of directors, who will be appointed by President Obama, to help foster sustainable supply chains for the apparel and textile industry.

Only research firms, not manufacturers, would be eligible for the grants and they would have to demonstrate 10 years of proficiency in sustainable supply chain processes.

“The goal is to have the U.S. become the global leader in sustainable business practices related to apparel and textiles,” said Alex Boian, director of trade policy for the OIA.

Proponents said they worked closely with U.S. textile and apparel manufacturers that could be potentially affected by the elimination of duties on imports and pointed to a 2007 U.S. International Trade Commission report that concluded there is no “commercially viable production of recreational performance outerwear in the U.S.”

The bill was originally introduced last year and did not move. Its supporters claim it has been substantially modified this year, but its prospects are unclear as trade has taken a backseat while Congress considers major health care and energy reform legislation.

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