WASHINGTON — Gail Strickler, assistant U.S. Trade Representative for textiles and apparel, who has worked for several years to balance often-competing interests of U.S. importers and textile producers in free-trade agreements and other initiatives, will step down on Friday.
Strickler, who has been involved in trade issues in the Obama administration for six years, said the time had come to leave her post after seeing through several important priorities, including the textile and apparel chapter in the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that negotiators clinched last week, and the extension of several trade preference programs where textile and apparel components play a large part.
“The things that I really care about and that I’ve pretty much devoted the last six years to are done,” Strickler said.
Her immediate plans after leaving USTR involve working on a few projects, such as one at the Inter-American Development Bank to relaunch an apparel and textile database connecting U.S. companies with manufacturers to strengthen and expand supply chains.
In addition to her involvement in helping craft key provisions in TPP, such as the short supply mechanism, Strickler cited working for the 10-year extension by Congress of the African Growth & Opportunity Act and extending a trade preference program for Haiti until September 2025. She also noted her participation in an expansion of qualified industrial zones in Egypt.
“AGOA legislation was renewed for 10 full years, with the third-party fabric provision in place for the entire 10 years, which I feel is a real game-changer because they never had that kind of time to really garner investment,” Strickler said of the trade preference program that least developed African countries use to import qualifying apparel and textiles to the U.S. duty free.
But it was the textile and trade rules in TPP that Strickler cited as her biggest achievement.
“Is everything perfect? No,” Strickler said of TPP. “But is it really good? I think it’s the best deal we could have gotten. I think there’s something in it for everyone and it doesn’t really devastate or undermine our existing FTAs.”
Most of the industry trade groups lauded the completion of TPP, which will encompass 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, if implemented among the U.S., Vietnam, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Singapore, Chile, Brunei, Peru, New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia.
But importers have criticized as too strict the U.S. proposal on a yarn-forward rule of origin that requires apparel to be made of fabric and yarns supplied by the U.S. or other TPP partner countries to qualify for duty-free benefits when shipped back to the U.S., while the textile industry has praised the administration for standing by such a rule to help companies better compete against imports.
“We worked closely with Gail and she brought a lot of energy and knowledge of the industry to the position and certainly had a major impact on TPP as it concluded last week,” said Julia Hughes, president at the U.S. Fashion Industry Association. “She had the longest tenure in that position and that may speak to the breadth of issues that Gail dealt with.”
Augustine Tantillo, president at the National Council of Textile Organizations said: “As an industry veteran and textile scientist, Gail brought a well-versed and highly unique perspective to her post. Her work with the industry on agreements such as TPP and T-TIP [the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the U.S. and European Union] was greatly valued and appreciated.”
Prior to joining USTR, Strickler was president of Saxon Textiles and worked at Philadelphia University’s College of Textiles and Sciences on sustainability and environmental compliance programs. She has also served as president of the Textile Distributors Association and sat on the boards of the Fashion Institute of Technology, National Council of Textile Organizations and National Cotton Board.
A replacement for Strickler at USTR has not been named.