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

32 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.

  10. I really enjoyed Gail’s discussion in our class, as well as her lecture later on in the afternoon.I loved how passionate she was about her job and how upfront she was when she spoke to us. Her take on the sustainable aspect of the fashion industry was truly inspiring and eyeopening. I agree with Gail’s idea that trade programs can be extremely beneficial in encouraging sustainable development. What inspired me the most was how much Gail wanted to make a change in the industry. Since she has been working in the industry for decades, she has strong opinions on President Trump and TPP. Her enthusiasm towards changing the textile and apparel industry is refreshing. It’s good to know that there are still people who are going to fight to make sure the fashion industry becomes more sustainable and who want to make America a better country.

  11. Out of all of the speakers that we had come to our class and speak to the fashion department, Gail Strickler was by far one of the most captivating. I think that fact that she was so honest, and relatable made the information more interesting. In her lesson she conveyed to us why textiles and apparel is so important to the economy. 3 trillion dollars were derived from textile and apparel industry; 800 billion in global textiles, 900 billion apparel globally, 1.4 billion in apparel retail. The apparel and textile industry is something that has such a far reach and touches everyone.
    The textile and apparel industry is one of the that is the first to enter developing countries and causes economic growth. The textile and apparel industry employs 60 million people and the automotive industry employs 8 million a year. In the United States we always express how important the automotive industry is to our economy but compared to the T&A industry, the automotive industry is such a small portion. In Stricklers presentation she also mentioned that 43% of the duties collected came also to the textile industry compared to automotive which is only 2.5%.
    At the end of the talk Gail mentioned some of the projects that she has in the works currently, which is having a water bottle deposit. I think the idea is very creative and could work to sustain a more sustainable way of manufacturing apparel and textiles, while building the economy in developing countries.
    Although Gail is the former trade representative its nice to see that she’s still fighting for what she thinks is right and working hard to make improvements.

  12. Gail’s lecture in class was one of my favorite speakers I have heard throughout college. She was engaging, honest and knowledgable. As someone who wants to work in sustainability, it was interesting to hear about someone in sustainability being so passionate inspiring. The industry needs a lot of change and with people like Gail, we can make this happen.

  13. I very much enjoyed getting to hear Ms. Strickler speak both in class and at her discussion later that day. The negotiations that Ms. Strickler is involved in can impact us to $3 Trillion in worldwide business and the fact that we had someone so influential and so involved in the negotiations of trade policy at our school was really astounding to me. Her honesty and candor was refreshing, especially as there are so few women who have been in the position that she is in. I really appreciated all of her knowledge on FTAs such as NAFTA, CAFTA, TPP, and some smaller agreements such as HOPE, AGOA and QIZ. Overall, I felt very lucky to have someone as distinguished as Ms. Strickler come and speak to us.

  14. Listening to Gail was truly an honor. As someone who is an Environmental Humanities minor and a fashion major, my dream has always been to watch these two fields come together to ultimately improve the sustainability of the textile and apparel industry. To see that Gail is so involved in sustainability makes me hopeful that I can have a career similar to hers. In terms of her opinions on Trump and on trade agreements, I agree with her completely. NAFTA and CAFTA are so vital to our economy and to our apparel industry, getting rid of them completely would be foolish and detrimental to not only us, but to every member country involved as well. Trade agreements have benefits that reach far beyond economic benefits- as Gail points out, trade agreements have the potential to promote sustainability and labor practices. Is the Trump administration ignoring these additional elements because they don’t realize the other benefits, or simply because they don’t care?

  15. Gail Strickler was one of the most informative and knowledgeable individuals I have ever come in contact with. She was by far one of the best in-class guest speakers I have seen. She knew everything there is to know about U.S. trade agreements and trade policy. It was amazing to hear her speak about AGOA, TPP and other trade topics. She inspired me to learn more about certain trade agreements like AGOA and to keep an eye on emerging markets in Africa. I was astonished at how many places she had traveled to and that she was one of the first female presidents of an organization. She provided our class with valuable information.

  16. Although Gail knows much more than I do about the apparel industry, I disagree with her when it comes to the possible changes made my President Trump to NAFTA. Gail feels the proposed renegotiation would not “threaten the benefits presently enjoyed by the U.S. textile and apparel industry”. Trump wants to place a 35% tariff on imports from Mexico which would increase prices and costs for producers, consumers, and exporters. Trump believes remaking NAFTA will help bring manufacturing jobs back to America, but this may be untrue considering other countries manufacture 97% of clothes sold in the U.S. By renegotiating NAFTA the cost of producing clothing will increase, causing the costs for consumers to greatly increase causing decreases in sales, which is why I disagree with Gail’s statement regarding NAFTA.

  17. I agree with Gail’s opinion that it is highly unlikely that Trump’s administration will reform NAFTA. She says this because if it was to be reformed, the chance that the U.S. will face retaliation is inevitable. Due to the fact that the NAFTA and CAFTA agreements together account for about 70% of the U.S. yarns and fabric exports, I doubt that the Trump administration will do anything to tamper with this, despite their drive to bring jobs back home from overseas. I also admire Gail’s passion for sustainability. In our classes, our professors take the time to stress the importance of sustainability and environmental responsibility. It’s interesting to see how much of an effect trade agreements can have on different sectors, such as the environment, because it doesn’t come to mind at first.

  18. Listening to Gail Strickler speak in our 455 class was super refreshing and most definitely one of my favorite speakers I have heard thus far. She was engaging, funny, extremely knowledgeable on everything trade, and took a powerful stance which was admiring. I will say that this past semester I have felt more environmentally friendly but after hearing her advice, tips, and tricks to being sustainable, especially in our industry, was extremely motivating. I have mentioned her to my parents and could not stop boasting about all of things she had taught us in such a short amount of time. I am glad there are people like her in this industry that care about the well-being of our environment and our global relations.

  19. I really enjoyed when Gail came and spoke to our 455 class. She is so knowledgeable on the topic and really conveys it in a matter of fact way. I love her focus on sustainability and labor issues. I think it is extremely vital that people of her importance see the problems happening with sustainability and ethics specifically in the textile industry. I understand Trump’s views to bring jobs back to the US, however, I agree with Gail and don’t think much revisions will be done to our existing free trade agreements. The US benefits greatly from most of these agreements and making changes would cause backlash. Of course, there is always room to improve but I do not think the Trump Administration will be able to completely alter or eliminate FTA’s such as NAFTA and CAFTA. I think Gail was my favorite speaker thus far in my time here at Delaware.

  20. It was such an honor and privilege to hear Gail Strickler’s talk and discussion last week. Gail has had much experience in the textile industry and it was very interesting hearing about her experience in government as the Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for textiles. She had a lot of energy and passion when talking, she jumped around from subject to subject which was exciting to hear about so many different aspects of her job. She had a lot to say about many different subjects and mentioned a lot of different trade agreements that I had never heard of. This was intriguing and caught my attention, because I would love to learn more about these policies and their impact on trade globally. She noted that she does not think the TPP will be discussed or renegotiated for a while but that aspects of the TPP may transition over into other partnership deals so that the industry can still focus on the major concerns and adaptations the TPP would have addressed. Gail has a rather negative perspective for government at the moment because people are stubborn and like she said “will always oppose something”. One piece of advice I loved to hear was that, even if you are not immediately reaching your goal in a negotiation, every step towards your goal is much more important and should be looked at as the same. Of course, keep the main goal in mind, but in government, where there are so many different opinions and end goals, each step in the direction of your goal is a positive one. This is an extremely important lesson in government and in general and Gail explained that emphasizing these positive strides are what help her keep her clients happy when negotiating. She also said, if someone is “too happy” after a negotiation, she did her job wrong, because everyone should have to do a little bit of compromising.

  21. I absolutely loved hearing Gail speak to our class about trade and her view’s on Trump’s current legislation. She was so straight forward and spoke her mind, which her thought came from a very knowledgable place and reasoning. She has worked in this industry for years so she provided us with great insight on what it was like working under the Obama administration. It was interesting to see how her job also affected her decisions as a consumer, because she does consider countries of origin, methods of how products are produced, and which products are harmful to the environment. I would love to hear her speak again and get her input on some other areas within the fashion industry.

  22. I really enjoyed Gail Strickler’s FASH445 class discussion. I thought that she did not falsify to filter any information and was very knowledgeable about trade. I am very interested in the sustainability aspect within the fashion industry and hearing her discuss her passions about sustainability was very inspiring. It gives me hope that more people like her have the capability to modify the fashion industry.

  23. Hearing Gil speak to our class was one of my favorite experiences within FASH455. She was a strong woman who broke a lot of barriers being the first woman president of trade, but also has a great sense of humor. She is secured in her views and is very educated in all things related to trade. I appreciated that she was very candid with us, it made the discussion more real and raw by knowing her unfiltered viewpoints. With more people like her working within the government looking out for the fashion industry makes me confident that with all the uncertainty, that we have strong women with strong view looking out for the apparel industry.

  24. It was so interesting and enjoyable to listen to Gail speak. I think its great to listen to someone with so much experience because it helps you understands points you have not known before. I think Gail made great points regarding sustainability in the textile industry because it is something that goes un recognized. It is also a sector that is continuing to grow so much. Its important to recognize that trade and sustainability go hand in hand and is something that will be going on in the future. I also agree that NAFTA and CAFTA are crucial to US exporting status and is not something we can walk away from. Exiting from NAFTA would effect us greatly but in the bigger picture would effect our relationships with these countries and how they perform. The biggest part of the textile industry is trade and giving and receiving. Trump is focusing all of his efforts on Made in America and not acknowledging the greater bigger effects.

  25. One of the best speakers I’ve listened to was Gail. She is a true inspiration for college women. She tells us the real deal that she works with each day and over the years. She has explained how complex the industry can get because it crosses a lot of areas. My favorite part was her talking about sustainability and her efforts with Haiti. It really demonstrated the positive side fashion can have in the future. It can change communities with jobs and it can innovate better ways of sourcing without damaging the environment.

  26. I personally found it most interesting to hear Gail talk about sustainability. In many of our classes sustainability is a huge and important factor. Many of our projects are based around sustainability and trying to mimic the act as if it was really going to be distributed. Gail spoke about sustainability in the real world, really giving insight and showing that it is very important in the really world. She helped me understand that sustainability in the fashion industry is important and really goes a long way.

  27. I really like Gail’s discussion during the class and the afternoon lecture. She is confidence, passionate and honestly. I just remember that she mentioned the sourcing suppliers like to tell lies about the composition of the fabric; some sourcing suppliers neglect some fabric requirement. Also, NAFTA is very important for U.S. textile apparel industry because NAFTA and CAFTA-DR together account for almost 70% of U.S. yarn and fabric exports. I strongly agree with Gail’s opinions of sustainability in the textile and apparel sector because the trade programs is mainly encouraging sustainability development, enhancing labor practices and facilitating sustainable regional supply chains. Also, sustainability issue can decrease the dangerous working environment, such ad rana plaza collapsed. Overall, I think Sustainability will become the most common issue in the future,

  28. Gail was able to clearly and enthusiastically cover the importance of the textile and apparel industry in our economy, which can be a confusing topic. She pointed out how FTAs, especially with T&A, can help support not our own economies, but countries trying to stay competitive on a global scale while still developing. Her work on sustainability is also really exciting to see and hopefully, her proposal about recycling bottles will work out.

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