Augustine “Auggie” Tantillo — one of the loudest and long-lasting voices for the textile industry in Washington — is set to retire this year as president and chief executive officer of the National Council of Textile Organizations.
The lobbying group started searching for Tantillo’s successor last year and plans to name new leadership “in the coming weeks.”
Tantillo, 59, plans to relocate to North Carolina after 38 years of working in Washington, D.C., including stints as chief of staff to Sen. Strom Thurmond (R., S.C.) and deputy assistant secretary for textiles and apparel in President George H.W. Bush’s Commerce Department.
The U.S. textile industry has long acted as something like a political spoiler for retailers, fighting to retain what was left of the U.S. manufacturing base while big importers sought fewer restrictions on goods coming from abroad, particularly China.
And at NCTO and in other roles, Tantillo was a key combatant, for instance, playing an important role in the fight to set up safeguard quotas on imports from China in 2005, ruffling retailers and slowing a rush of goods after an earlier global quota system was dismantled.
Tantillo clearly still has some fight left in him, but said, “I want to be able to walk out the door under my own power.”
While he has sparred with the import community on the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Central American Free Trade Agreement and more, he said the biggest fight was over China.
“All those issues were usurped in terms of the potential impact on the marketplace by the advent of China [as an international commercial power] and its role, really starting in the early Nineties, but accelerating dramatically starting in 2002 and 2003 as it gained [World Trade Organization] membership,” he said.
Somewhere in the mix, Washington became much more polarized, on trade and other issues.
“Not everything is black or white, either completely good or completely bad,” Tantillo said. “If you promoted what we would define as a more pragmatic trade policy — ‘You’re an isolationist,’ “You’re a Neanderthal,’ ‘The world has changed, but you haven’t.’
“That’s unhealthy because neither side in the trade debate has a corner on perfect logic, neither side has a crystal ball to say what are the exact right steps we can take,” he said. “But oftentimes, you can’t get to the debate because things have become so polarized.”
Still, Tantillo said President Donald Trump — one of the most polarizing figures in American politics in generations — has “done a significant service for U.S. manufacturing” by taking the issue of trade off “autopilot.”
“President Trump not only has asked the tough questions, but he has triggered a series of events that have now forced a real, deep review and potentially redirection of how we interact…with China,” he said.
The end result? “The jury’s still out, we’re waiting to see,” he said.
“[Trump’s] challenging conventional norms,” Tantillo added. “He’s questionings things. He’s doing things differently. I don’t always support everything that he’s doing nor do I support how he might be doing everything in a precise fashion, but I come back to that same point, which is the failure [of others to] ask some of these questions, the failure to take the automatic pilot switch and turn it off.”