NAFTA Renegotiation and Textile-Specific Rules of Origin in Free Trade Agreements: Discussion Questions from FASH455

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(Photo credit: Steve Lamar, AAFA)

#1 The US textile industry and the fashion retailers/brands/importers have very different priorities regarding modernizing and updating NAFTA. Do you believe that a compromise acceptable to both sides can be found? If so, what do you believe that compromise can be?

#2 Overall, why or why not do you think the U.S. textile and apparel industry is a beneficiary of NAFTA over the past decade? From the perspective of the U.S. textile and apparel industry, should or should not reducing the U.S. trade deficit be a prioritized objective in the NAFTA renegotiation?

#3 What will happen to the U.S. textile and apparel industry if NAFTA is gone? How should U.S.-based textile and apparel companies respond to NAFTA’s termination?

#4 In your view, why or why not the “yarn-forward” rules of origin are outdated in today’s global-based textile and apparel supply chain?

#5 Why do you think the “yarn-forward” rules of origin vary from free trade agreement (FTA) to FTA? Do you think there’s a way to make a universal “yarn-forward” rule for all U.S. FTAs?

#6 Why are the textile-specific rules of origin under free trade agreements so complex? What potential issues do you think can arise because of the complexity of these rules?

(Please feel free to join our online discussion. In your comment, please mention the question #)

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NAFTA Members’ Applied MFN Tariff Rates for Textile and Apparel in 2017

If the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is terminated by President Trump, the immediate impact will be an increase in tariff rate for textile and apparel (T&A) products traded between the three NAFTA members from zero to the most-favored-nation (MFN) rates applied for regular trading partners. In 2017, the average applied MFN tariff rates for textile and apparel were 7.9% and 11.6% respectively in the United States, 2.3% and 16.5% in Canada and 9.8% and 21.2% in Mexico (WTO Tariff Profile, 2017).

Below is NAFTA members’ average applied MFN tariff rate in 2017 for chapters 50-63, which cover T&A products:

tariff

US export to mexico

US export to canada

US import from Mexico

US import from Canada

Data source: World Trade Organization (2017); US International Trade Commission (2017)

by Sheng Lu

Related article: What Will Happen to the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry if NAFTA Is Gone?

Mexico’s Apparel Exports Continue to Rely on the U.S. Market Heavily

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Mexico’s textile and apparel (T&A) exports totaled USD$6,441 million in 2016, fell by 5.1% from 2015. Around 63% of these exports were apparel (or USD$4,061 million), and 37% (or USD$2,379 million) was textiles.

Could be negatively affected by the appreciation of the Mexican Peso against the U.S. dollar, plus the uncertainty associated with the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexico’s apparel exports further went down 7.2% in the first half of 2017 compared to 2016.

In 2016, the United States remains Mexico’s top T&A export market with an 87.3% share (up from 87.0% in 2015, 86.7% in 2014 and 84.7% in both 2013 and 2012), followed by Canada with a 1.9% share (up from 1.6% in 2015). Overall, Mexico was the sixth largest T&A supplier for the U.S. market, accounting for 4.3% of the market shares measured by value in 2016.

Nevertheless, Mexico’s T&A exports to the United States fell by 4.7% between 2015 and 2016 (from USD$5,902 million to USD$5,625 million). Product categories that suffered the deepest drop include cotton hosiery (down by 57.3%), men’s and boys’ wool suits (down by 35.9%), manmade fiber underwear (down by 29.0%), and men’s and boys’ cotton woven shirts (down by 27.9%).

Overall, Mexican T&A exporters feel relieved that the United States has decided to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). However, without TPP, the Mexican T&A industry is still expected to face an increased competition from Vietnam and China both in the leading export markets (such as the United States and Canada) and the domestic market. Notably, the Mexican government has decided to lower the Most Favored Nation (MFN) import duty rates on the 73 clothing items and seven made-up textile items effective in January 2019.

References: Textile Outlook International (October 2017)

US Tables Proposal Aimed at Limiting the Yarn-Forward Exceptions in NAFTA Renegotiation

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According to Inside US Trade, in the third round the NAFTA renegotiation (September 23-27, 2017), the United States has put forward several possible changes to the existing rules related to textile and apparel in the agreement:

  1. USTR proposes to eliminate the tariff preference level (TPL) in NAFTA. The goal of eliminating TPL is to limit the exceptions to the yarn-forward rules of origin and “incentivize” more production in the NAFTA region as advocated by the U.S. textile industry.
  2. As a potential replacement for TPL, USTR also proses to add a short supply list mechanism to NAFTA, but details remain unclear (e.g., whether the list will be temporary or permanent; the application process).
  3. USTR further proposes a new chapter devoted to textile and apparel in NAFTA in line with more recent agreements negotiated by the U.S.. The current NAFTA does not include a textile chapter.

USTR’s proposal to remove TPL in NAFTA has met strong opposition by the U.S. apparel industry, fashion retailers, and brands as well as their partners in Mexico and Canada. According to these industry groups:

  • Eliminating TPLs would disrupt supply chains that have been in place for more than two decades.
  • Eliminating TPLs would not move production back to the U.S. but would instead further incentivize sourcing from outside the NAFTA region and put textile and apparel factories in the region out of business. For example, some apparel factories remain production in the NAFTA region largely because TPL allows them to use third-party textile inputs and the finished goods can still be treated as NAFTA originating.
  • Without the TPL, companies would opt to produce textile and apparel products in the least expensive way possible, likely outside the NAFTA region, and ship items into North America despite being hit with most-favored-nation (MFN) tariffs.
  • A short supply list would not ease the supply chain disruptions that would result from the removal of the TPLs because there is no guarantee products formerly subject to the TPL would make it onto a new NAFTA short supply list.

A potential compromise could involve a reduction in Canadian and Mexican TPLs to the U.S. and an increase in the U.S. TPLs to Mexico and Canada, which could boost the U.S. trade surplus in textiles and apparel with its NAFTA partners and throw a bone to the U.S. textile industry by ostensibly incentivizing domestic production.

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Fact-check about TPL

TPL was included in NAFTA as a compromise for adopting the yarn-forward rules of origin in the agreement. Before NAFTA, the US-Canada trade agreement adopted the less restrictive fabric-forward rules of origin.

The TPL mechanism has played a critical role in facilitating the textile and apparel (T&A) trade and production collaboration between the United States and Canada, in particular, the export of Canada’s wool suits to the United States and the U.S. cotton or man-made fiber apparel to Canada. Statistics from the Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) show that in 2016 more than 70% of the value of Canada’s apparel exports to the United States under NAFTA utilized the TPL provision, including almost all wool apparel products. Over the same period, the TPL fulfillment rate for U.S. cotton or man-made fiber apparel exports to Canada reached 100%, suggesting a high utilization of the TPL mechanism by U.S. apparel firms too (Global Affairs Canada, 2017). Several studies argue that without the TPL mechanism, the U.S.-Canada bilateral T&A trade volume could be in much smaller scale (USITC, 2016). Notably, garments assembled in the United States and Canada often contained non-NAFTA originating textile inputs, which failed them to meet the “yarn-forward” rules of origin typically required for the preferential duty treatment under NAFTA.

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Trade Issues Facing the U.S. Apparel and Retail Industry

Panel:

  • Steve Lamar, Executive VP at the American and Apparel Footwear Association (AAFA)
  • Jon Gold, VP of Supply Chain and Customs Policy at the National Retail Federation (NRF)
  • Robert Antoshak (Host), Managing Director at Olah Inc.

Topic discussed

  • Renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
  • Trump’s trade policy agenda
  • What’s going on in the retail market?
  • Technology and the future of apparel supply chain
  • US labeling requirements and a return of Made-in-USA

USTR Lighthizer Discusses Philosophies behind Trump Administration’s Trade Policy

At an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on September 18, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer addressed the U.S. trade policy in the Trump Administration, particularly Trump’s beliefs on trade:

Philosophy 1: The reason why some Americans oppose free trade is NOT that they were “ill-informed.” Rather, it is because the U.S. trade policy for decades has failed to create a “level playing field.” The Trump Administration will proactively use all instruments to “make it expensive” for U.S. trading partners to engage in the non-economic behavior, convince U.S. trading partners to treat U.S. workers, farmers, and ranchers fairly and demand “reciprocity” both in the home and international markets.

Philosophy2: Trade deficits matter. Although trade policy is not the only cause for the trade deficit, it can be a major contributor, such as high tariffs that deny the market access for U.S. products, not imposing the border adjustment tax and currency manipulation.

Philosophy 3: China is the top challenge. According to Lighthizer, “the sheer scale of China’s coordinated efforts to develop their economy, to subsidize, to create national champions, to force technology transfer, and to distort markets in China and throughout the world is a threat to the world trading system that is unprecedented.”

Philosophy 4: The Trump Administrations will exam all existing trade agreements to make sure they provide “roughly equivalent” measured by trade deficits. “Where there the numbers and other factors indicate a disequilibrium, one should renegotiate.”

During the Q&A session, Lighthizer further shared his views on some cutting-edge trade issues:

  1. Regarding the NAFTA renegotiation, Lightlizher said that the negotiation is “moving at warp speed, but we don’t know whether we’re going to get to a conclusion, that’s the problem.” The consultation process with U.S. Congress is complicated and time-consuming, but it is unavoidable.
  2. The Trump Administration prefers bilateral trade deal over regional and multilateral ones. Given the size of the U.S. economy, Lighthizer believes that bilateral trade agreement will provide more negotiation leverages and ensure better enforcement.
  3. The Trump Administration will still stay very much engaged in Asia.
  4. The WTO Dispute-Settlement mechanism doesn’t work well—it has both imposed new obligations for the U.S. and reduced a lot of U.S. benefits.
  5. Regarding the outlook for the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) negotiation, Lighthizer stressed the importance of the US-EU trade relations. He said that the series of elections in EU is a reason why the negotiation of the agreement hasn’t moved forward.
  6. Regarding TISA (Trade in services agreement), the U.S. objective is to open markets and eliminate market access barriers for U.S. companies.

NAFTA Renegotiating Objectives Related to the Textile and Apparel Industry

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On Tuesday (July 17, 2017), the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) released its detailed and comprehensive summary of the renegotiating objectives of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In the statement, USTR says that “through the renegotiation of NAFTA, the Trump Administration will seek a much better agreement that reduces the U.S. trade deficit and is fair for all Americans by improving market access in Canada and Mexico for U.S. manufacturing, agriculture, and services.”

Several released negotiating objectives address textile and apparel (T&A) directly or are highly relevant to the sector:

Trade in Goods

  • Improve the U.S. trade balance and reduce the trade deficit with the NAFTA countries.
  • Maintain existing duty-free access to NAFTA country markets for U.S. textile and apparel products and seek to improve competitive opportunities for exports of U.S. textile and apparel products while taking into account U.S. import sensitivities.

Rules of Origin

  • Update and strengthen the rules of origin, as necessary, to ensure that the benefits of NAFTA go to products genuinely made in the United States and North America.
  • Ensure the rules of origin incentivize the sourcing of goods and materials from the United States and North America.
  • Establish origin procedures that streamline the certification and verification of rules of origin and that promote strong enforcement, including with respect to textiles.
  • -Establish origin procedures that streamline the certification and verification of rules of origin and that promote strong enforcement, including with respect to textiles.

Customs and Trade Facilitation

  • Provide for automation of import, export, and transit processes, including through supply chain integration; reduced import, export, and transit forms, documents, and formalities; enhanced harmonization of customs data requirements; and advance rulings regarding the treatment that will be provided to a good at the time of importation.

Comments:

  1. Notably, reducing the trade deficit and bringing more manufacturing jobs back to the United States are at the core of the NAFTA’s renegotiating objectives. These two goals are also highly consistent with Trump’s rhetoric on his trade policy.
  2. A dilemma facing the T&A sectoral negotiation is that the United States currently runs a robust trade surplus with Canada and Mexico for textiles: in 2016, the value of U.S. trade surplus (i.e. the value of exports minus the value of imports) totaled $680 million for yarns (up 56.7% from 1994), $4,342 million for fabrics (up 202.9% from 1994) and $1,461 million for made-up textiles (up 223.5% from 1994). Meanwhile, although the United States is in a trade deficit with NAFTA partners for apparel ($1,130 million in 2016), U.S. apparel imports from Canada and Mexico often contain textile inputs “Made in the USA” through the Western-Hemisphere supply chain. Blindly cutting the trade deficit on apparel ironically could affect the U.S. textile exports to the NAFTA region negatively.
  3. Based on the released objectives, it seems unlikely that the NAFTA renegotiation will liberalize the yarn-forward rules of origin for textile and apparel. On the contrary, USTR could review the current exceptions to the yarn-forward rules, including the tariff preference levels (TPL) and some special regimes such as the 9802 program related to fabric sourcing to strengthen the manufacturing base and create MANUFACTURING jobs in the United States. Recognizing the competing arguments between the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry (fashion brands and retailers) regarding the necessity and impact of these exceptions, USTR also needs more inputs of how companies use exceptions like the TPL in sourcing and why they use them.
  4. Other than the rules of origin, trade facilitation and customs enforcement will be another major agenda related to the T&A sector in the NAFTA renegotiation. Elements from the newly enforced Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 could be added to the updated NAFTA.
  5. A positive aspect of the NAFTA T&A sectoral negotiation is that all parties alongside the supply chain, from U.S. cotton growers, textile mills to apparel retailers and brands recognize the value of NAFTA and no one calls for pulling out of the agreement. It is also a consensus view of the U.S. T&A industry that NAFTA renegotiation should “do no harm”, i.e. strengthening rather than weakening the current supply-chain partnership between NAFTA members. Additionally, stakeholders in the U.S. T&A industry unanimously support keeping the renegotiation trilateral, but agree to use bilateral provisions to address some particular concerns.
  6. The NAFTA renegotiation may officially start on August 17 or 18, 2017. However, Time is the enemy of the NAFTA renegotiation. While there is a strong incentive for all parties to finish the negotiation by the end of 2017 given the upcoming U.S. mid-term election and the Mexican presidential election in 2018, the ambitious renegotiation agenda makes it extremely challenging to meet that goal. Risks are still there that Trump may pull the United States out of NAFTA should he lose patience for the renegotiation. Notably, Trump’s dislike of NAFTA is real.

Sheng Lu

Related: US Textile and Apparel Industry and NAFTA: Key Statistics (updated July 2017)

USTR Hearing on the Renegotiation of NAFTA: Textile and Apparel Industry

US Textile and Apparel Associations Comment on NAFTA Renegotiation