By  on July 2, 2007

WASHINGTON — With quotas largely eliminated, the Commerce Department is reorganizing its Office of Apparel and Textiles with a sharper focus on logistics and financing issues.

Reoriented along geographical lines, there now will be a group specializing on the Western Hemisphere and another for the rest of the world, as well as a supply chain and logistics liaison.

The liaison will work with industry and trade groups to understand and identify logistical and transportation issues important to the apparel and textiles industries, and then help them resolve problems as they arise. When circumstances warrant, the office will still direct companies to other parts of the federal government.

"The more we can understand the industry and the way they move the entire supply chain, not just transportation, but the way they move commerce and manufacture and design all those components, the better we can serve the industry," said Matt Priest, deputy assistant secretary for textiles and apparel, who oversees the office.

For instance, the Western Hemisphere office will have a staffer assigned to understanding the nuances of the U.S. ports of entry who will be able to help answer a question from a fashion executive.

Similarly, the office will be paying closer attention to programs, such as those run by the World Bank, which encourage exports and are better able to point companies in the right direction for extra support. There will be an increased emphasis on the Berry Amendment, so the office is also better able to deal with issues surrounding the program requiring the Defense Department to give preference to U.S.-made goods.

"Part of this is addressing the change in the trade landscape," Priest said. Janet Heinzen will be helping Priest with the transition as office director, taking the post over from Philip Martello, who retired Friday.

Although there are quotas on Chinese apparel and the office will still manage that program and continue with its other duties implementing trade agreements, much of the office had been responsible for managing the decades-old system of quotas that expired at the end of 2004.

"Matt's hauling the bureaucracy into the 21st century," said Stephen Lamar, executive vice president for the American Apparel & Footwear Association. "I think he's going to change the office to try to accommodate where the industry is right now, not where the industry was 30 years ago."The reorganization offered a rare point of agreement between lobbyists for importers and domestic textile firms.

"The changes seem to make perfect sense," said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, who ran the office from 1989 to 1992. "There probably hasn't been a major structural change in the way the office of textiles has been configured in 30 years."

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