WASHINGTON — Seven weeks into her new job as assistant U.S. Trade Representative for the office of textiles, industry veteran Gail Strickler said her years in the industry have prepared her well for the complicated trade issues facing her disparate group of stakeholders.
“If you had to take my 30 years experience in the textile and apparel industry and tried to put it together and come up with a job description, this would be the job,” Strickler said.
A well-known player in the industry, Strickler has done stints as chief executive officer of a textile firm, as well as held positions with a number of industry associations and boards. It’s experience that she, and the industry, say will help her.
Strickler assumed the position that was formerly called the special textile negotiator. She is the lead negotiator for textile and apparel products and advises the USTR, Ron Kirk, on industry trade matters.
Strickler said her priority will be examining the pending and current free trade agreements the U.S. has to ensure they are beneficial for as many industry stakeholders as they can be. Compliance issues will also be important, she said. Her focus will include social and environmental compliance, transshipment, intellectual property rights violations, product safety violations, fraudulent tariffs and mislabeling of goods.
Strickler grew up in the Garment District in New York. While she was a student at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, she worked after school cutting and delivering samples for her mother’s textile manufacturing and importing firm, Saxon Textiles. She would eventually join the family business, ultimately rising to president.
After selling Saxon Textiles a few years ago, Strickler worked at Philadelphia University’s College of Textiles & Sciences on sustainability and environmental compliance programs. Previously she served as president of the Textile Distributors Association, sat on the boards of the Fashion Institute of Technology, National Council of Textile Organizations and National Cotton Board.
“Gail understands the industry, understands the capability of the industry and the importance of the industry to the U.S. economy, which is an obvious plus as she engages in policy discussions in the government,” said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition.
Stephen Lamar, executive vice president of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said, “Gail really has mastery over the technical aspects of the industry. It’s good to have someone in the role who understands.”
The transition to a government gig, however, has required some adjustments. At last week’s Textile & Apparel Importers Trade & Transportation Conference in New York, Strickler began her presentation with an apology, explaining some of her planned comments had been “banned.” She did not elaborate, but did on issues like Doha and pending free trade agreements.
“We are not going to do [Doha] quickly just to try to get an agreement by the end of 2010,” said Strickler. “There’s a feeling that some of the more developing nations — like India, China, Brazil — have got to give us more access to their markets in order for negotiations to go forward.”
Strickler said the USTR is also reaching out to China to discuss the causes behind import surges in certain product categories in an effort to avoid accusations of dumping on both sides. She said those discussions “have been effective.”
Strickler also encouraged brands and retailers attending the conference to take greater advantage of trade preferences available through the Haitian Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act, or HOPE. The program is already showing signs of growth. According to the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel, U.S. apparel imports from Haiti rose 28 percent to about $300 million for the year through Aug. 31.
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