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NCTO Chair Says ‘Business Is Coming Back’

The U.S. textile industry was reflective of the pandemic-influenced American economy in 2020, while also spinning its own unique yarn.

“The metrics for our industry and the U.S. manufacturing base as a whole mirrored that of the overall economy, with output falling in the first five months of 2020, but slowly regaining ground in the latter half of the year,” David Roberts, chairman of the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO), told members in a virtual State of the Industry address on Wednesday.

“Taking all things into consideration, the volatility in supply chains and in demand that we saw in the first half of 2020 began to stabilize somewhat in the second half,” Roberts said. “We began to see increased economic activity and an uptick in demand, pointing to promising signs of a recovery-which was fragile, but steady. I’m happy to report that, at least anecdotally, business is coming back at a fast clip in the first quarter of this year, as orders continue to bounce back in line with rising consumer demand and retail sales.”

2020 was marked by the coronavirus crisis, which “profoundly impacted our businesses, creating challenges and new opportunities that we are all still navigating through today, and will be confronting for the foreseeable future,” Roberts said.

NCTO, he added, had and continues to maintain close engagement with the Trump and Biden administrations and Congress on issues such as shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) that sparked an “unparalleled national response from the domestic textile industry” to secure long-term government contracts and build a permanent PPE supply chain.

“This turbulent environment has required constant focus and engagement on the part of our staff and industry leadership to ensure that we effectively partnered with the government to address the emergency needs of our frontline medical providers,” Roberts said, citing the efforts of NCTO president and CEO Kim Glas and her staff for their advocacy and leadership on behalf of the textile industry.

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“Perhaps most of all, this past year has demonstrated to Capitol Hill, the White House and the nation our industry’s resilience, know-how and innovation and the indisputable fact that our government must focus on policies that support U.S. textile manufacturing jobs and investment, strengthen trade enforcement, expand the Berry Amendment to medical PPE and build a permanent domestic PPE supply chain,” he said.

The Berry Amendment is a statutory requirement that restricts the Department of Defense (DOD) from using funds appropriated or otherwise available for procurement of food, clothing, fabrics, fibers, yarns, other made-up textiles, and hand or measuring tools that are not grown, reprocessed, reused or produced in the United States, according to the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles and Apparel.

Noting gains in the recent monthly ISM benchmark report on U.S. manufacturing for the textile and apparel sectors, Roberts said in 2020 the value of U.S. man-made fiber, textile and apparel shipments totaled an estimated $64.4 billion. While output was down for all of 2020 versus 2019, the last several months of 2020 saw an upward trend as shipments gradually recovered from a low in April.

U.S. exports were also down last year compared to 2019. Exports of fibers, textiles and apparel were $25.4 billion in 2020.

“Building on innovation, productivity and an improved policy environment, the U.S. textile industry remains the second largest individual country exporter of fibers, yarns, fabrics and sewn products,” Roberts said. “Capital expenditures have remained strong. Investment in yarn, fabric, apparel and sewn product products manufacturing in 2019 [the latest figures available] hit $2.38 billion.”

Since 2010, capital investment in U.S. yarn, fabric, apparel and sewn products manufacturing was $19 .9 billion, he noted.

“The Western Hemisphere supply chain continues to be a vital economic engine for the textile and apparel sectors,” Roberts said. “Last year, we had $28.5 billion in two-way textile trade with the Western Hemisphere, which supports 2 million direct jobs in the entire regional supply chain.”

NCTO worked diligently to support the industry’s needs through four economic stimulus bills that passed Congress, providing important benefits to businesses and unemployed workers. Of paramount importance, he noted, was NCTO’s role in helping to shape policies and legislation designed to secure a long-term strategy to establish a permanent domestic production base for PPE.

“I want to extend my appreciation to our dedicated members who have been at the forefront of PPE production, pivoting overnight to stand up these production lines and answer the call of the nation,” Roberts said. “I cannot stress enough how intensely engaged NCTO staff has been in providing input on PPE policy and legislative development…NCTO was engaged at every level of government contracting and procurement issues, bringing together the entire domestic PPE supply chain, while also closely coordinating with White House advisers, congressional allies and others to get vital PPE product to frontline workers battling the Covid-19 pandemic.”

There are numerous other issues requiring NCTO’s focus and resources, he said, such as the need to pass a new Miscellaneous Tariff bill that grants relief on unavailable component materials but doesn’t allow unnecessary duty relief on sensitive finished textiles, and continued engagement with Congress and the White House “to vigorously oppose attempts by importers to expand the Generalized System of Preferences to apparel and footwear.”

Roberts said NCTO has carved out a seat at the policy table in Washington, which is critical to ensuring the industry’s interests are represented and reflected in policies and legislation.

“It has been a year marked by challenges and resiliency and our industry has remained strong throughout this crisis,” he added. “I am optimistic about the future, knowing that I am part of an industry that made such an incredible commitment to our nation, along with the willingness to come to those in need of aid.”