WASHINGTON — A textile trade and lobbying group has asked U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to reconsider Vietnam’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks after the country appeared for the first time on the Department of Labor’s list of products allegedly using child and forced labor in apparel manufacturing.
Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, sent the letter to Kirk on Tuesday, arguing that Vietnam’s placement on the child and forced labor list raises the question of whether the country should participate in the TPP talks, which, if completed, would be the largest trade agreement for the U.S. and 10 other countries.
“This report is one more piece of an ever-increasing set of evidence calling into question Vietnam’s ability and willingness to serve as a reputable trading partner worthy of the preferences envisioned in any TPP,” Tantillo said.
The Labor Department’s “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor” included Vietnam and Brazil for the first time in the apparel manufacturing sector. Those two countries were added to a list of six other repeat offenders — including Argentina, China, India, Jordan, Malaysia and Thailand — cited by the agency.
Vietnam has been a flash point between the U.S. textile industry and retailers and apparel importers, who have a lot at stake in the TPP negotiations.
Importers and retailers see Vietnam, currently the second-largest apparel supplier to the U.S. behind China, and the TPP region, as an alternative to China, where rising labor costs have forced changes in sourcing strategies.
But the domestic textile industry has long opposed the inclusion of Vietnam, arguing that giving benefits to Vietnam could put U.S. producers at a competitive disadvantage because it subsidizes its industries.
AMTAC also pointed to what it called other significant problems as a reason for reevaluating Vietnam’s participation in TPP. Citing numerous studies and reports, the group said Vietnam has many state-owned enterprises, represses press and human-rights freedoms and allegedly lacks an independent, transparent judicial system.
A USTR spokeswoman said they have received the letter and are reviewing it.