United States Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai made a trip to the heart of the U.S. textile industry on Thursday, taking tours and talking Made in America and the sector’s importance at Milliken & Company and American & Efird (A&E).
Tai’s visit comes at a pivotal time for the U.S. textile supply chain, which produced $64 billion in output in 2020 and employed nearly 530,000 workers. The industry has been at the forefront of a domestic production chain manufacturing over a billion personal protective equipment (PPE) items during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Her time at Milliken included a tour of the company’s Magnolia plant in Blacksburg, S.C., and a roundtable discussion highlighting the critical role women contribute to textiles, the vital need for policies supporting a domestic supply chain and the sector’s significant impact on the U.S. economy. Milliken is one of the largest textile companies in the country, employing more than 6,000 domestically and an additional 1,350 globally. Milliken’s textile unit employs 2,500 people across eight counties in South Carolina and is the fourth-largest manufacturing employer in the upstate region, according to the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO).
“Milliken is honored to host Ambassador Tai at our Magnolia plant to discuss not only the invaluable contributions we make every day to our community and our nation, but also the importance of sound trade policies that bolster domestic production and the co-production chains we have built, in particular with our Western Hemisphere trading partners,” said Chad McAllister, executive vice president of Milliken & Company and president of its Textile Business division, according to an accounting of the event supplied by NCTO.
“To have Ambassador Tai on-site at one of our U.S. facilities is an opportunity to showcase our breadth of innovation in the industry and our passionate team of American workers who help our business succeed,” McAllister added. “We are fortunate and thankful for Ambassador Tai’s leadership as well as her commitment to understanding the challenges and opportunities of our industry.”
Tai told the gathering that as USTR she is committed to helping all of their textile companies build on their success by finding market opportunities and helping reach new customers.
“I want to ensure that our trade policy matches the innovation and changes happening in the textiles industry,” she said. “With your help, we can continue addressing critical issues. In doing so, we will help the textiles industry maintain its competitive edge and ensure it remains a global standard-bearer in the years to come.”
On the second leg of her trip, the USTR visited A&E’s manufacturing facility in Mount Holly, N.C. A&E operates as part of Elevate Textiles and its global portfolio of advanced products and textile brands, including Burlington, Cone Denim, Gütermann and Safety Components.
During the visit, U.S. textile executives spanning the fiber, yarn, fabric and finished product textile and apparel industry participated in a roundtable with Tai, discussing the competitiveness of the domestic industry, outlined priority issues in Washington, such as the importance of the Western Hemisphere co-production chain and ways to jointly support domestic supply chains through Buy American and Berry Amendment policies that help onshore production, spur investment, maintain the safety and security of the armed forces and generate new jobs, according to NCTO and a summary provided by Tai’s office.
In a roundtable with textile executives, Tai also discussed the Biden-Harris administration’s work to increase two-way trade opportunities in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, according to the USTR readout. As the textiles industry continues to implement environmentally sustainable practices, she pledged to work closely with companies to ensure USTR’s policies complement their work to tackle climate change, advance economic growth and create jobs.
In addition, Tai thanked the roundtable participants for their “remarkable effort to reconfigure their production lines to make personal protective equipment at the height of the pandemic.” She noted that she wants to work with the industry as the administration develops a long-term strategy to build and sustain the United States’ long-term capability to manufacture supplies for future pandemics and biological threats.
“It was an honor hosting Ambassador Tai at our manufacturing facility in Mount Holly, employing 380 valued associates and just two miles from where the company started 130 years ago,” Elevate Textile CEO Sim Skinner said. “A&E maintains a significant manufacturing footprint in the Carolinas with 1,200 total associates, and we contribute significantly to our local community and the entire manufacturing base in the United States, touching every aspect of life, from the threads in Super Bowl footballs to flags on the moon and most recently, to the very PPE products protecting our frontline heroes and fellow Americans against COVID-19 and the Space X suits that are orbiting Earth right now.”
“We had an engaging discussion with [Tai] on our company’s and industry’s innovation and competitiveness, and on the policy priorities that we believe will help ensure our competitiveness and long-term investment in the domestic textile industry,” Skinner added.
NCTO president and CEO Kim Glas said Tai’s leadership in the international trade policy arena and her understanding of the challenges confronting domestic manufacturers and U.S. workers under the international trade system “is unparalleled.”
“The U.S. textile industry is one of the most dynamic, innovative industries in the U.S. economy and our co-production chain with our Western Hemisphere trade partners is essential,” Glas said. “Trade policies are essential to this manufacturing sector and workforce. We look forward to working closely with the ambassador and her office to advance policies that bolster domestic production.”
“We are grateful to Ambassador Tai for participating in an engaging and substantive discussion with industry leaders today on a whole host of policies, ranging from the importance of Buy American and Berry Amendment government procurement policies to maintaining strong rules of origins in free trade agreements to the need to address larger systemic trade issues with China,” Glas added.