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Op-Ed: Here’s What Donald Trump Should do With Trade

Donald Trump isn’t the only one taking up residence on Pennsylvania Avenue. The United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) recently moved into our new offices just steps from the White House—and as we packed and unpacked the history of our organization, I couldn’t help but think about the election, and the impact the new Administration could have on the fashion industry.

What can we expect in terms of trade and foreign policy in the Trump Administration? The President-Elect announced via YouTube that he will withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on Day One of the Administration—and if the campaign rhetoric is any guide, we should prepare for the United States to renegotiate or, alarmingly, leave the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), place penalty tariffs against China, and maybe even build the wall along the Mexican border.

To be honest, however, we suspect the new president will not abolish NAFTA or other existing trade agreements—but there is nonetheless a sharp shift in the tone of the national discussion about trade. This is worrisome because the fashion industry is global and depends on trade around the world to create high-quality jobs in the United States.

So, we have a few suggestions for our soon-to-be-new neighbor.

  1. Take policy actions that support all American jobs. While the campaign focused on manufacturing jobs, the fashion industry creates millions of high-quality jobs—in design, product development, logistics, sourcing, and retail, as well as manufacturing. Already, the retail industry, including the fashion industry, supports 42 million jobs—or 1 in 4 jobs in the United States. And these jobs will be on track to grow if free trade agreements contain rules of origin and market access provisions that decrease the cost of products.
  1. Help American families and consumers by eliminating regressive taxes on clothing and footwear. While the average duty for manufactured products is 2 percent, tariffs on clothing and footwear, including for kids and babies, can be as high as 32 percent for clothing and 65 percent for footwear. We’re sure President-Elect Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump, who have both produced fashion lines in China, are aware of the impact of high tariffs. Let’s end these regressive tariffs—and watch jobs grow, businesses expand, and families reap the benefits when shopping for necessities.
  1. Take a fresh look at onerous regulations. For too long, brands and retailers have juggled conflicting rules and regulations in the United States and around the world, in areas such as labeling, testing, and compliance. The new Administration has an opportunity to work with business and the Congress to untangle the mess of conflicting state and national regulations. Our industry and consumers don’t benefit from often contradictory state and global regulations. We hope the Trump Administration shares our commitment to eliminate unnecessary burdens on business.
  1. Support the Western Hemisphere supply chain—because it’s an important success story and shows how free trade really works. U.S. yarn and fabric producers are major suppliers to apparel manufacturers in the Western Hemisphere. In fact, about half of American yarn exports go to CAFTA-DR countries—and looking at all products, the United States maintains a trade surplus with the CAFTA-DR region. Meanwhile, brands and retailers depend on the region for quick turnaround the provide consumers with the products they need. We should not withdraw from Western Hemisphere FTAs; we should make them even better for today’s supply chains, and encourage more business.

We think—and hope—the Trump Administration will understand what our industry needs. After all, he and his family are in the business of importing fashion and accessories from around the world, too! In the meantime, the United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) will continue our work on Pennsylvania Avenue and beyond to find opportunities to eliminate tariffs and open markets, to expand activities with U.S. Customs and Trusted Trader Programs, and to provide resources to help companies source in cost-effective, efficient, and ethical ways. We hope we can work closely with the new Administration and the new Congress on these issues. But we will never stop fighting for free trade.


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Julia K. Hughes is the president of the United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) in Washington, D.C.