Despite concern the trade war between the U.S. and China won’t end anytime soon and could even escalate, Bill Jackson, assistant U.S. Trade Representative for textiles, told a trade conference on Wednesday the Trump administration is looking for a resolution.
“We all can agree that we’d like to see this situation resolved without further impact on our trade,” Jackson said at the annual Apparel Importers and Transportation Conference in New York. “But the president is very keen to make sure that he brings something home that is meaningful and important and affects the underlying issues in the long term.”
Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Fashion Industry Association, which organized the conference along with the American Import Shippers Association, told Jackson the industry is nervous about a “relatively long stay on the China tariffs,” and asked him to explain some of the “key indicators” in the run-up to Trump’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping next month.
“One of the things that I think there is widespread agreement on in Washington, across the aisle, among different constituencies, is that we have a problem with our bilateral trade with China,” Jackson responded. “And it needs to be fixed. There’s been a lot of effort to address this in previous administrations that we weren’t able to make much progress on. So for better or for worse, this administration decided that we need to take this head on. I know that the policy of using the tariffs has been controversial, but I think it’s fair to say we’ve gotten the attention of the Chinese through this. Let’s hope that when the leaders meet in Buenos Aires, that we can make some progress on that.”
Jackson, who also led the textile chapter negotiations for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), said the change was meant to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), as it was negotiated more than 25 years ago. A lot has happened since then in international trade overall, he said, and in areas like labor, the environment and intellectual property.
“We also wanted to level the playing field and where possible to rebalance our trade and where opportunities present themselves, to bring back jobs to the U.S.,” Jackson said. “My objective in these negotiations was to optimize the North American value added in the textile and apparel trade without unduly affecting the overall competitiveness of the Western Hemisphere supply chain. I’d like to think we achieved that objective.”
For example, he said, new rules were introduced that require sewing thread, narrow elastic and pocketing to originate in the three USMCA countries. Adjustments were were made to some trade preference levels to make them more equitable and comparable with actual trade, while strengthening customs enforcement procedures.
“A mixed bag, I would say,” USFIA’s Hughes said. “There are some really good things in the new agreement, but some of the additional regulatory requirements may prove just a little bit troubling.”