Byline: Joyce Barrett

WASHINGTON — The U.S. textile industry has profited from the North American Free Trade Agreement and most of the jobs lost since the pact took effect in January 1994 have been the victims of technology, not NAFTA, according to an American Textile Manufacturers Institute report.
The 12-page document dated October 1997, prepared for the ATMI board of directors and not intended for public release, and obtained by WWD, notes that since trade barriers among the U.S., Mexico and Canada were lowered, fiber consumption in U.S. mills in every year since 1994 has been the highest in the history of the industry.
ATMI generally has exhibited a protectionist attitude against liberalized trade. But this report deals only with NAFTA, which was favored by much of the domestic textile industry since it keeps a lot of apparel production in North America, with U.S.-made fabrics.
Doug Bulcao, ATMI deputy director of government relations, said the study does not imply imports have not hurt the domestic industry. “Imports do hurt us, and that’s clear,” he said. “We still are adversely impacted in employment by imports.”
Reeling out its statistics, the report said that from January 1994 until August 1997, textile mill employment declined by 61,100, from 668,500 to 607,400. That marks a 9.1 percent decline from the pre-NAFTA level. The industry invested $25 billion in new plants and equipment between 1985 and 1995, the report said.
“Despite this employment decline, recent production and shipment figures for most industry sectors equal or exceed pre-NAFTA levels, and the industry’s health, whether measured by mill fiber consumption or textile mill shipments, is stronger than it was prior to NAFTA,” the report said. Mill fiber consumption in 1993 was 15.3 billion pounds, compared with 15.9 billion pounds in 1996. Mill shipments in 1996 were $78.5 billion, 6.1 percent higher than in 1993, before NAFTA.
To blame the employment decline on NAFTA “ignores the historical data,” the report said. “In most cases, declining employment has been coupled with rising production over the past decade.
Although NAFTA appears to have had little effect on the long-term downward trend in industry employment, it seems to have had a positive effect on textile business in general.”

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