WASHINGTON — Joshua Teitelbaum, deputy assistant secretary for textiles, consumer goods and materials at the U.S. Commerce Department, who played a key role on textiles in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations, while also spearheading the agency’s “Smart Fabrics Summit,” has stepped down from his post.
Teitelbaum, who has been involved in the administration’s efforts to revitalize American manufacturing, particularly in the area of textiles, said it was a “natural time for political appointees to find the next opportunities,” as the Obama administration’s second term starts to wind down.
He will be joining the public law and policy practice at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, where he will be counsel focusing on international trade. He will begin at the firm at the end of the month.
Teitelbaum was in the Commerce post for less than two years. He also held the dual role of chair of the interagency Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements. In both positions, Teitelbaum had oversight over Commerce’s Office of Textiles & Apparel and CITA, working closely with various facets of the fashion industry on a range of international trade issues, including apparel and textile imports, export promotion, Made in America initiatives, domestic manufacturing challenges, short-supply petitions under free-trade agreements and trade barriers.
“In my time, there are two things that I’m really proud of. One is helping to conclude the textiles chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. We are really proud of what we were able to accomplish there,” Teitelbaum said. “I think we created market access opportunities for U.S. brands and retailers, while at the same time taking into account the sensitivities of domestic manufacturers as well as providing export opportunities to them to other TPP markets.”
TPP includes the U.S., Australia, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Vietnam, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, Chile, Brunei and New Zealand and would encompass nearly 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.
Obtaining support for a trade deal from domestic textile producers and U.S. brands and retailers was no easy feat, but one Teitelbaum said he considers a success.
“I’m told that in previous agreements, it has been very difficult to get all of these players on board and support an agreement,” he said, crediting officials at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, OTEXA and several industry trade groups for working together on the deal. “Because of the cooperative working relationship, we were able to reach agreement that both ends of the issue were able to support. That is an important signal about just how strong the textile chapter is and a sign we were able to reach a key balance.”
Teitelbaum also pointed to a second key achievement. A significant portion of his tenure was spent developing an initiative to help the apparel and textile industries expand, develop and keep pace with the rapidly changing area of smart textiles and wearables.
At the major summit in the nation’s capital in April, the Commerce Department cohosted the first smart fabrics summit, convening a forum that public and private sector officials hope will lead to more collaboration among textiles, apparel brands, high-tech and the government, and bolster the nascent industry.
A series of panel discussions featuring brands such as Ralph Lauren and Adidas, innovation hubs such as Manufacture New York, patent attorneys, academics and several Obama administration officials outlined the scope of the industry and the potential it has to revolutionize the way smart fabrics protect firefighters and soldiers, provide physiological data to health-care providers and athletes, and spur innovations in fashion.
“I think we did a really good job of showcasing just how high-tech U.S. textile production is these days,” Teitelbaum said. “It’s important that Washington and the rest of the country knows just how high-tech and technologically advanced our textile industry is today We were able to bring tech, textile and apparel companies together to showcase products that we think are just around the bend for consumers around the country.”
Stephen Lamar, executive vice president at the American Apparel & Footwear Association, called the summit and Teitelbaum’s vision about the future for the industry “revolutionary.”
“He looked around and said how can the policy apparatus be oriented so it can best respond to and best anticipate and cultivate the positive economic activity, given what we think is coming down the pike,” Lamar said. “The Smart Fabric conference was all about what are the regulatory mechanisms that are in place right now? Are there some that are missing? And [do] the entities in the regulatory space…need to be oriented differently to better respond to these very sweeping technological changes? We were very pleased that he was willing to look down the road and see that would occur.”
Lamar credited Teitelbaum with listening closely to the often-conflicting interests of various stakeholders to get a better perspective of all sides.
“That makes a good hallmark of a good leader in this area of setting policy because you recognize that the policies you are recommending or programs you are putting in place are designed to benefit an industry,” he said. “He was pretty effective at linking the policy considerations with the political considerations, which meant that what he would put forward would be realistic.”
“Josh did a great job as DAS working with the various interest groups in the industry,” said Julia Hughes, president at the U.S. Fashion Industry Association.
Hughes said, following the lead of his predecessor Kim Glas, that Teitelbaum and OTEXA made significant efforts to stay in touch and “understand different perspectives” of the industry, although importers were not always completely satisfied with the outcome of some policy decisions.
“Definitely the highlight was the Smart Fabric Summit. He really helped to bring the discussions into the future for the industry, [as opposed to] just talking about the past and how to protect the way things used to be done.”