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AAFA Says Delaying TPP Will Cost Members Billions

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton may have outgrown her penchant for colorful pantsuits, but politics and fashion are more intertwined than ever.

“If you’re a politician, it’s fashionable to say that trade takes jobs away,” declared Rick Helfenbein, president and chief executive officer of the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), speaking Wednesday at the organization’s annual executive summit in Washington, D.C. “In fact, the rhetoric of this election cycle is starting to give trade a bad name.”

He was referring, of course, to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which was signed by the U.S. and 11 other nations on Feb. 3 but still needs congressional approval—and opposition has increased of late. Critics on the campaign trail have said the deal will spell disaster for the U.S. economy, leading to lost jobs and lower wages.

“No trade deal is perfect. They’re just not. But what’s going on now is that politicians are exploiting the potential of a short-term loss without selling the longer-term gains. This is just wrong and it’s not good for America,” Helfenbein continued. “What we need to do is explain that trade creates jobs, it’s just the jobs are different—and they’re often higher paying jobs.”

To that end, Helfenbein said the question isn’t if, but when TPP will pass.

“There has been a noticeable uptick in the urgency in getting TPP queued up for consideration this year. And some of that reflects the political uncertainty of the moment, suggesting of course that it would be easier to do it now than next year. But it also reflects the math about the agreement’s value,” he said. “A one-year delay of this agreement will cost our members more than a billion dollars. That is not a pretty number.”

That’s why he said the AAFA plans to continue advocating “on the front lines” to get the deal passed as soon as possible.

But it’s just one of the issues the organization will tackle throughout the coming year. Others include combating the sale of counterfeit goods, addressing “well intentioned but uninformed” local legislation and chemical management.

“We’re here for you; that’s the bottom line,” Helfenbein stressed to the apparel and footwear executives present. “We are member-driven, we are member-based, we are member-run.”