Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK--Members of the National Association of Hosiery Manufacturers have teamed up with Mexican and Canadian counterparts to form the North American Hosiery Council.
The group will meet periodically to network and to discuss the ramifications of the North American Free Trade Agreement, according to Sid Smith, president and chief executive officer for the NAHM.
"This provides an informal organization through which hosiery manufacturers in NAFTA countries can come together to discuss their interpretations of the NAFTA agreement," he said. "It should allow us to reach a consensus as to resolving the possible problems concerning NAFTA as it relates to hosiery makers."
Of the 630 hosiery companies in North America, 300 are in the U.S., 30 are in Canada and about 300 are in Mexico, Smith estimated. Unlike the U.S., Mexico and Canada do not have separate organizations for hosiery manufacturers, he said. The Mexican contingency is affiliated with the hosiery division of the Camara Nacional de la Industria Textile and some members of the Canadian group belong to the Canadian Textiles Institute.
"The U.S. is the strongest in the industry. Of the three, we probably will benefit the most and will see the benefits first," according to Jerry Warren, incoming chairman of the board for NAHM and vice president of Cedar Creek Corp. in High Point, N.C.
In 1994, the amount of U.S. hosiery sold in Mexico increased by 45 percent and additional gains are forecast, Smith noted.
In October, about 40 domestic, Mexican and Canadian hosiery executives met in Mexico City to discuss the potential for an international organization and agreed to seek support from their respective agencies, Smith said. Each party agreed to share their results at the NAHM's annual meeting, which was held last month in Boca Raton, Fla.
Five delegates from Mexico and five delegates from Canada aired their views on NAFTA during a panel discussion, Smith said, and with strong support from all three countries, the NAHC was formed at the meeting.
The NAHC is similar to a group created earlier this year in the textile industry, Smith said. The American Textiles Manufacturers Institute, the U.S. organization, joined forces with Canadian and Mexican textile trade associations to form the North American Textile Council.
Smith said the NAHC aims:
To establish partnerships among Mexico, Canada and the U.S. to sell hosiery products in Central America and South America, and eventually to Europe and Asia.
To assure all parties share the same interpretation of NAFTA's provisions.
To determine how the expansion of NAFTA to other countries will affect the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
To see to it that the safeguards and requirements included in NAFTA are included in extensions of the agreement.
To work mutually to insure provisions are protected for each of the three countries.
To work cooperatively to make sure non-NAFTA countries do not enjoy NAFTA benefits once their exports reach the U.S., Canada or Mexico.
The coalition should improve communication, increase the number of statistics and offer more general information about the hosiery industry in each country, according to Hugh Gaither, outgoing chairman for the NAHM and the president of Ridgeview Hosiery, Newton, N.C.
The group also expects to clarify how NAFTA affects certain technical issues such as labeling, packaging and origin of product, Gaither said.
"I think this is a very positive step. It's only logical that we take a broader approach," he said. "Who knows at some point, it might be broader than it is now. That's only my opinion."
The NAHM has always taken a free trade stance, according to Clifford Leath, second vice chairman for the NAHM and president of Leath, McCarthy & Maynard, a private label sock and hosiery manufacturer based in Burlington, N.C.
"As we become more of a global economy, our association's function is changing," Leath said. "Whereas in the past, we were looking inward, now we're getting involved in a lot of things we never planned to--such as this."
The fact that some companies own hosiery manufacturers in more than one country should lead to some interesting discussions, Warren said. For example, Grupo Synkro, which accounts for about 56 percent of the Mexican market, owns Kayser-Roth Corp.
Pooling resources through the NAHC--along with free trade--should make the hosiery market more competitive, Warren said.
"In the hosiery industry, anyone can buy the same equipment and the same yarns. There are no secrets in our industry," he said. "They pretty much play on level ground."
With tariffs being lifted, Warren said, "it should make it more competitive."

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