Gail Strickler, Former Assistant US Trade Representative for Textiles, on Trump’s Trade Policy

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Gail Strickler, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Textiles (2009-2015), who negotiated the textile chapter under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), visited UD on April 13 and delivered a public lecture on The Global Apparel Industry – Style and Substance. The event is part of the Fashion and Diplomacy Lecture Series sponsored by the Institute for Global Studies and the Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies.

During the talk, Gail made a few comments regarding trade policy in the Trump administration:

First, Gail believes that the existing U.S. free trade agreements (FTAs), trade preference programs (PTAs) and the U.S. commitments at the World Trade Organization (WTO) are unlikely to be undone by President Trump because retaliatory actions from other trading partners would be inevitable.

Second, regarding the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Gail doesn’t think the proposed renegotiation would threaten the benefits presently enjoyed by the U.S. textile and apparel industry. Gail also thinks the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) is a lifeline for the U.S. domestic textile manufacturing sector. Notably, NAFTA and CAFTA-DR together account for almost 70% of U.S. yarn and fabric exports.

Third, as observed by Gail, Wilbur Ross, the Commerce Secretary, has been given an expanded role in trade in the Trump Administration. Gail believes Ross’s appointment is likely to bode well for NAFTA and CAFTA-DR on textiles because Ross until recently owned the International Textile Group (ITG), which has significant investments in Mexico and relies heavily on CAFTA-DR for its textile sales.

However, Gail doesn’t think concentrating on trade deficits to define trade policy is a very “good method” of navigating the trade world. Interesting enough, last time when the U.S. trade deficit significantly shrank was during the 2008 financial crisis.  

Gail is also a strong advocator of sustainability in the textile and apparel sector. She believes that trade programs can play a vital role in encouraging sustainable development, improving labor practices and facilitating sustainable regional supply chains. According to Gail, powerful the labor provisions in trade programs can be if strong incentives are coupled with a credible threat of rapid enforcement – little evidence of effectiveness if only one (or fewer) of these conditions is met. However, comparing with enforcing labor provisions, Gail finds promoting and enforcing environmental sustainability standards through trade agreements is much more complex in the textile and apparel sector and will require creativity and strong participation from private sectors and consumers.

Before the public lecture, Gail visited FASH455 and had a special discussion session with students on topics ranging from the textile and apparel rules of origin in TPP, NAFTA renegotiation, AGOA renewal and state of the U.S. textile and apparel industry.

 

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Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

13 thoughts on “Gail Strickler, Former Assistant US Trade Representative for Textiles, on Trump’s Trade Policy”

  1. I agree with you, Professor, and Gail when you say trade programs play an important part of the development of sustainability and improving labor practices. With efficient trade programs that are easy to comprehend and to adhere to, the easier it is on companies seeking trade to provide each other with the best opportunities to remain successful.

  2. Overall, Trump is withdrawing from the TPP and making certain that any new trade deals are in interests of American workers. It is said that he is trying to renegotiate NAFTA as well and he has even threatened to withdraw from that agreement, along with introducing “border tax” on imports. So basically, he is just anti- China and anti-trade for he believes this will bring more jobs back into the U.S. Gail on the other hand was calling his bluff. She believes that NAFTA will stay put because 60% of the value of what is imported back into the U.S. is made from yarns and textiles made in the U.S. So taking that agreement away can potentially hurt U.S. jobs for billions of exports would be at stake. I do agree with Gail, that trade programs can play a vital role in encouraging sustainable development, improving labor practices and facilitating sustainable regional supply chains, so I hope Trump understands this and keeps the agreements in tact when necessary.

    1. I agree that the NAFTA reflects the interests of the U.S. textile industry. Without the NAFTA, the Western-hemisphere supply chain will be in jeopardy. It is also interesting to hear Gail’s perspective on the rules of origin negotiation in TPP. These rules are extremely technical and tedious: (https://shenglufashion.wordpress.com/2015/12/15/textile-and-apparel-ta-specific-rules-of-origin-in-tpp-apparel-products/) And Gail’s talk provides insights into the setting of these rules. Indeed, trade policy shapes the landscape of the industry and the supply chain.

  3. Trump’s main focus is to bring jobs back to American, which to him, means pulling away from China and other countries that we import from, and producing domestically. This is a main point of withdrawing from the TPP. In terms of NAFTA, this is crucial to the US textile industry because without it, the majority of US textiles would be put at risk, which would be extremely harmful to American jobs in this sector. I agree with Gail about trade agreements having a positive impact on labor and facility practices to ensure the supply chains are sustainable.

  4. I must to say that I thoroughly enjoyed what Gail had to say regarding all of the relevant topics. It was really refreshing to see such a passionate individual regarding sustainability as well. That is something I feel very strongly about and to bring to light that trade agreements could potentially alter the state of our current practices is brilliant. I believe that instead of our nations and other countries involved being so negative about the agreements, they should put a positive spin on them and discover what good can come from them regarding education, sustainability and possible opportunity.

  5. Gail’s visit to our class was extremely interesting. It was great to hear someone speak who is so passionate about the industry. It was interesting to hear her say that she does not believe any of the FTAs will be undone by the Trump Administration. Since the start of the new administration is has been of grave concern how it will effect the textile and apparel industry in the future. Hearing someone who is so knowledgable on the topic state that she does not believe the T&A industry will be negatively affected is promising. Also, her stance on sustainability was refreshing to hear. This industry needs so much work in that category and rallying together retailers, consumers, manufactures and the government might be the only to make a true change.

  6. I really enjoyed Gail’s lecture in out 455 class, and really found her views on sustainability so interesting. Gail is a strong advocator for sustainability in the textile and apparel sector as mentioned, and I completely agree with her that these trade programs can provide a very important role in encouraging more sustainable development and implementation. The textile and apparel industry needs more people like Gail to be a strong supporter of sustainability.

  7. I really enjoyed listening to Gail’s lecture that was outside of class! She made good points about how the US would be better served by using a bilateral agreement with Japan, creating the rules and regulations, and then inviting other TPP countries to contribute rather than us listening to New Zealand and having them come up with rules and regulations about topics they do not really care about.

  8. Ms. Strickler’s talk in our 455 class was truly eye opening. I had not really thought of the environmental standpoint of trade and how agreements like the TPP can influence those standards. I had previously considered more of the economic benefit to free trade and I believe that this is what most Americans think of too when they think of trade. If it is brought to the attention of Americans that agreements like the TPP promote and mandate certain environmental regulations, American’s would feel less hesitant about FTA’s. Especially with the Trump administration, I think that U.S. citizens view trade as having this negative connotation of taking away U.S. jobs. I think if mutually beneficial trade agreements were to be viewed equally as economic and human rights triumphs that citizens would be more apt to supporting FTAs that involve rules for bettering sustainability.

    1. totally agree! It is very eye-opening to see the bigger impact of trade agreements beyond commercial interests for companies. Personally I am particularly interested in how FTAs can facilitate the building of a more sustainable regional supply chain. So many potentials here!

  9. I attended Gail’s lecture, and found it entirely eye opening. It inspired me to be reminded again just how much of an impact the textile and apparel industry has not only on the U.S. economy but for all economies around the world. Gail’s sustainable efforts are commendable. It seems to be her real passion and love. From my understanding, she was an exemplary assistant to the USTR, considering she served all 8 years of the Obama administration and negotiated TPP. It is refreshing to know that there are real people in Washington fighting for the pervasive issues in our industry.

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