The most-prominent voice for the U.S. textile industry in Washington, D.C., is trying to insert fashion into President Trump’s brewing trade war with China.
Trump has long criticized China for having unfair trade practices and for forcing U.S. firms to transfer technology and intellectual property. But fashion importers dodged a bullet last month when the office of Trump’s U.S. Trade Representative detailed $50 billion in new duties on Chinese goods and left apparel off the list. (The duties did cover Chinese-made cut-and-sew equipment that could be used to help further the Made in USA apparel movement.)
Auggie Tantillo, president and chief executive officer of the National Council of Textile Organizations, testified at a USTR hearing Thursday, urging the administration to “include textile and apparel end products in any Section 301 retaliatory tariff action against China,” referring to the technical name for the duties.
Tantillo described China’s trade practices as “predatory” and said they have contributed to the loss of hundreds of thousands of textile jobs.
“China’s domination of global textile markets has clearly been aided by its rampant theft of U.S. textile intellectual property,” he said in written testimony. “From the violation of patents on high-performance fibers, yarns and fabrics to the infringement of copyrighted designs on textile home furnishings, China has gained pricing advantages through blatantly illegal activities.”
According to figures from the U.S. government, China accounted for 49.3 percent of all apparel and textile imports for the 12 months ending March 31.
Tantillo noted that China’s textile and apparel exports to the U.S. jumped by 1,400 since 1997 and helped fuel a more than $44 billion trade deficit. (Imports from China shot up dramatically after the country joined the World Trade Organization in 2005.)
It’s not just the business that China’s taken, but the ideas as well, he argued.
“The U.S. textile industry is vulnerable to IPR theft as the global leader in research and development and leading innovator of next generation fibers, yarns and fabrics with cutting-edge characteristics and end-uses,” Tantillo said.
While importers complain that higher tariffs on China would lead to higher prices for consumers and lower profits for them, Tantillo said there were plenty of other countries that can supply textiles.
“Further, it is a tactical mistake to exempt strategically important industries in China from the retaliation list,” he said. “The textile and apparel sector is a critical aspect of China’s national economy due to the extraordinary number of workers employed in it…with approximately 24,000 enterprises, over 10 million direct jobs, and millions of additional jobs in support industries.
“To resolve China’s rampant IPR abuses, any retaliation list will need to include pillar sectors of their economy,” Tantillo said, taking a hit ‘em where it hurts takes stance.
Predictably, Rick Helfenbein, president and ceo of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, felt otherwise and an accused the textile group of calling for “taxes to be levied on American citizens.”
“Tariffs are a tax — plain and simple — and levying tariffs on U.S. imports will directly raise our costs here at home,” Helfenbein said. “It is unrealistic to think that textile and apparel supply chains can quickly or simply shift production outside China without massive disruption that will lead to cost increases and significant retail price inflation in the United States — which will fall disproportionately hard on low-income Americans.”