WASHINGTON — The House passed a trade preference package on Thursday that would renew or extend benefits to sub-Saharan African countries, Haiti and other developing nations, advancing President Obama’s trade agenda and setting the stage for a high-stakes vote on presidential Trade Promotion Authority on Friday.
The measure passed on a vote of 397 to 32. Since there are differences between the House bill and a Senate measure that passed 97 to one last month, the legislation is expected to next head back to the Senate for a final vote.
The trade preference package is important to the fashion industry. It would extend the African Growth & Opportunity Act for a decade, renew the Generalized System of Preferences program that expired in July 2013 and extend trade benefits in the HOPE and HELP programs for products from Haiti through September 2025.
The trade preference package also contains provisions that would create new and separate classifications in the tariff schedule on a long list of “recreational performance outerwear” that companies and industry groups hope will eventually lead to lower tariffs on those imported products. In addition, duties on certain imported water-resistant performance footwear would be lowered to 20 percent from a high of 37.5 percent. Another provision would make textile and leather travel goods “eligible for consideration” to the GSP program.
House Ways and Means chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), who brokered a compromise on the TPA package with Senate leaders, lauded passage of the Trade Preferences Extension Act of 2015. Ryan said AGOA extension “strengthens ties between [the U.S. and Africa],’ and noted that expanding GSP eligibility for items such as purses, briefcases and backpacks under certain circumstances was important, even though it excludes most apparel and textile products.
“The purpose of all of this is to give American consumers access to better products at better prices to help grow the economies of America and the countries we’re trading with in the developing world,” Ryan added.
Juanita Duggan, president and chief executive officer of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said: “The trade preferences legislation will provide immediate benefits to clothing and shoe companies. We are pleased to see the House pass the package today with overwhelming support and urge the Senate to follow suit promptly so that the legislation can be quickly signed into law.”
Duggan said the renewal and an update of the GSP program is “critical.” She said, “With the update of GSP, we can now begin a process to get travel goods — such as backpacks, luggage and phone cases — qualified for GSP benefits.”
She also said extension of AGOA and Haiti preference programs will allow apparel and footwear companies to “maintain business in those regions without disruption and with certainty that these key trade platforms will not expire.”
Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Fashion Industry Association, agreed that renewal of AGOA “will be a huge boost for sourcing with Africa,” and noted the importance of extension of benefits to Haiti.
Passage of the measure gave momentum to debate and a vote on TPA that has been slated for Friday. TPA allows Congress to set negotiating objectives and consultation requirements for the executive branch, but also limits lawmakers to an up or down vote on trade deals. It is seen as vital to helping the U.S. complete negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal between the U.S. and 11 other countries, considered a cornerstone of Obama’s legislative agenda.