WASHINGTON — Bill Jackson, a longtime career official at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, has been named Acting Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for textiles and apparel, according to fashion industry officials and trade experts.
Jackson, who was most recently deputy assistant USTR for the Generalized System of Preferences, succeeds Gail Strickler, who stepped down last month to pursue trade-related projects in the private sector.
Jackson, who has been at USTR since 2002, became known to the industry when he worked as the director for African affairs at USTR from 2002 until 2010. Industry groups have long supported the African Growth & Opportunity Act, which gives many African countries duty-free treatment on qualifying apparel imports to the U.S., and fell under Jackson’s purview.
“Many of us know Bill from working with him on AGOA implementation and also on GSP,” said Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Fashion Industry Association. “Definitely, Bill worked closely with industry to balance interests during the closing months of the TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership] negotiations,” she said, adding that the industry will continue to work closely with Jackson during the implementation phase of TPP and other trade issues.
Jackson is stepping into the role as the acting trade official overseeing textiles and apparel at a pivotal time. He is said to have played a part in helping close the textile and apparel chapter of the 12-nation pact that was completed last month. The industry is anxiously awaiting the public release of the TPP text and Congress must still consider the trade agreement and vote on it, which is expected sometime next year.
Most of the industry trade groups lauded the completion of TPP, which will encompass 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, if implemented among the U.S., Vietnam, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Singapore, Chile, Brunei, Peru, New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia. But importers have criticized as too strict the U.S. proposal on a yarn-forward rule of origin that requires apparel to be made of fabric and yarns supplied by the U.S. or other TPP partner countries to qualify for duty-free benefits when shipped back to the U.S., while the textile industry has praised the administration for standing by such a rule to help companies better compete against imports.
“In regard to TPP, we found him to be extremely professional, very hard-working and very fair in terms of taking into account and consideration of our views,” said Augustine Tantillo, president of the National Council of Textile Organizations.
David Spooner, a partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP, and also the chief textile and apparel negotiator at USTR from 2002 to 2006, said he has known Jackson for several years.
“He is a steady hand, knows how trade agreements work and knows the nuts and bolts of stakeholder consultations,” said Spooner, adding that Jackson will have an advantage on TPP because it appears to have the support of domestic textile and importing groups.
“Unlike other free-trade agreements, it looks like at least for now both textile mills and many retailers are endorsing TPP,” Spooner said. “So Bill may not have to worry about running around Capitol Hill trying to make side deals and convincing members to vote ‘yes.’ TPP will be a close vote for other reasons, but the apparel chapter, amazingly, wasn’t one of the final issues on the table when TPP closed.”
The textile negotiator position is typically filled with political appointees and at one time even held the rank of ambassador, subject to Senate confirmation. But Jackson will be in the position in an acting capacity as a longtime civil servant, industry officials said.
Before joining USTR, Jackson was director of government relations and policy at the Africa-America Institute, a non-governmental organization involved in education and exchange programs for Africans. He was a Foreign Service officer at the State Department from 1984 to 1987.
USTR did not respond to requests for comment on Jackson.