By  on December 4, 2009

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel is shifting its focus from New York to Washington under new leadership as importers ratchet up the pressure on policy makers in the nation’s capital to help craft beneficial measures that impact billions of dollars in global trade.

The 20-year-old trade and lobbying association said Thursday that Laura Jones, executive director of USA-ITA since its inception in 1989, will be stepping down at the end of January. Julia Hughes, senior vice president and chief Washington lobbyist, will take the helm.

The association, which has 200 members, including J.C. Penney Co. Inc., Kohl’s Corp., Target Corp., Pacific Sunwear of California Inc., AnnTaylor Stores Corp., Quiksilver Inc. and Macy’s Inc., will also move its headquarters to Washington from New York by the end of January.

“In this critical time for the American retailers and importers, the board wants to focus USA-ITA on our mission to represent the views of the industry to the decision makers in Washington,” said Janet Fox, chairwoman of USA-ITA and vice president and director of strategic sourcing at Penney’s.

“We are looking to be more aggressively engaged and be out there on behalf of the industry,” said Hughes.

One of the association’s top legislative priorities is lobbying Capitol Hill lawmakers to overhaul U.S. trade preference programs that provide duty-free benefits to countries on imports of billions of dollars worth of apparel, accessories and footwear.

Apparel importers have spearheaded an effort to overhaul the trade preference programs, which encompass hundreds of countries from South America to sub-Saharan Africa. A coalition of groups, including USA-ITA, submitted a 10-page white paper to the House Ways & Means Committee this week calling for streamlining several preference programs, creating a single, less restrictive rule of origin, and expanding the programs to include least developed countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia.

“Each of these programs have been policy initiatives to encourage more economic development to support jobs in developing countries and we recognize that there is much more opportunity to expand that business if only the programs were easier to use and were in effect permanent or in place for a longer period of time,” said Hughes.

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