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Op-Ed: Protectionist Trade Policies Won’t Bring Jobs Back to US

With all the talk about the cost of back-to-school shopping, I recently visited the children’s section of to calculate how much it really costs to outfit your kids for the first day of school in 2016.

Nautica-branded school uniform skirts and pants ranged in price from $18.99 to $20.99, while Spider Man and Frozen backpacks spanned $9.99 to $12.99. A huge selection of tops, from Captain America and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tees starting at $3.99 to Ralph Lauren U.S. Olympic Team polo shirts (surely on the back-to-school wishlists of many young athletes) at $47.99.

There are hundreds of items at prices to suit many budgets—and styles to suit every kid, whether they are dreading wearing shoes after three months of summer vacation, or a budding fashionista begging for the latest graphic tees and denim trends.

But everything I looked at had just one thing in common: “imported.”

This is not a surprise to those of us in the fashion industry. More than 95 percent of apparel sold in the United States is imported. Those imports support American jobs—with economic studies finding that 70 percent of the value of imports comes from American workers like designers, product developers and logistics experts.

Imports also help to keep prices lower for consumers. And we have an opportunity to lower prices even more for American families: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

I know that if you have been watching the campaign speeches you may be a bit skeptical about how imports contribute to lower prices and great jobs. For the first time in recent memory, both presidential candidates are advocating for protectionist trade policies as a way to bring manufacturing back to the U.S.

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We think they may believe that this rhetoric is popular on the campaign trail, but the fact is, they don’t really understand how trade works at all.

Even with the back-to-school sales, prices are still too high for many American families. The first-day outfit alone could easily top $100, depending what you need to buy—and since your child grew (maybe a lot!) since last September, you probably need to buy quite a bit. And don’t even think about whether you have more than one child, or kids who need athletic clothing and equipment, or the new winter coat you need in a few months.

TPP has the potential to eliminate duties on clothing and footwear and cut prices overnight. Some garments, like girls’ dresses and skirts, could be duty-free on Day One of the TPP. Others will have reduced duties and a longer phase-out. Not to mention, the elimination of these duties will also take away the inherent unfair aspect of our apparel tariffs—which are low for silk apparel, but often as high as 32 percent for synthetic fiber products. What family would not appreciate saving money that could go into that college fund instead of to the government?

The TPP is a win-win opportunity to help American families and to help create jobs here in the United States. Support TPP so that we can save money today, and let the TPP create more high quality jobs in the United States, in fields like logistics and sourcing and design and marketing, so America’s children heading back to school today will have many opportunities for jobs tomorrow.


By Julia K. Hughes, president, United States Fashion Industry Association

This piece is part of the outreach by footwear, apparel, travel goods, and retail industry organizations to raise awareness regarding the positive economic potential of the TPP trade agreement.