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

Textile and Apparel (T&A)-Specific Rules of Origin in TPP—Apparel Products

Textile and apparel (T&A)-specific rules of origin (RoO) for most apparel articles under TPP are known as the nickname “yarn forward”. “Yarn-forward “means preferential treatment under TPP will be allowed if the component determining classification meet BOTH the following two criteria:

  • knit or woven in TPP countries FROM yarn spun or extruded in TPP countries;
  • apparel is cut or knit to shape or both + sewn or otherwise assembled in TPP countries

In other words, “yarn forward” RoO not only requires the activity of apparel manufacturing must happen in one or more TPP countries, but also requires certain textile material used to make the apparel products must come from the TPP region.

The following is an example of how TPP describes “yarn-forward” rules of origin:

“A good is an originating good if it is produced entirely in one or more TPP countries by one or more producers using non-originating materials and each of the non-originating materials used in the production of the good satisfies any production process requirement, any applicable change in tariff classification requirement or any other requirement specified.”

yarn forward

The followings are details of T&A-specific RoO for apparel products in TPP compiled based on released TPP text. “Regular yarn-forward” means all textile material listed in the table must be TPP originating. Overall, TPP allows much fewer exceptions to “yarn-forward” rules than most existing free trade agreements in the United States (such as NAFTA, CAFTA-DR, and Columbia Free Trade Agreement).

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USTR Michael Froman Comments on the Textile and Apparel Chapter under TPP

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In an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations on October 15, 2015, U.S. Trade Reprehensive Michael Froman left a comment on the textile and apparel chapter (T&A) under TPP. He said that:”

“You know, we worked very hard to find solutions that could address the broad range of stakeholder interests here, even when we had conflicting interests here in the U.S. I’ll take textile as an example. You know, we have a domestic textiles industry that’s been investing in more production in the U.S., growing their employment in the U.S. And obviously we have a strong sector of our economy that brings in apparel from other countries, apparel importers and retailers. We worked very closely with both groups of stakeholders to come up with a solution, to come up with an outcome that we think both will be comfortable with and both will be supportive of. And that’s been very important to us to try and address the broad range of U.S. stakeholder interests, whether it’s labor, environment, importers, exporters, to make sure we’re covering everybody’s interests well.”

In the remarks, Forman also ruled out the possibility that TPP would be renegotiated. He said that:

“So this isn’t one of those agreements where, you know, you can, you know, reopen an issue or renegotiate a provision. This is one where, you know, every issue is tied to every other issue and every country’s outcome is balanced against every other country’s outcome. And so that’s the agreement that we’ll be putting forward under TPA for a vote by Congress.”

According to Inside U.S. Trade (October 9, 2015), the final TPP reflects some of the key priorities of the U.S. textile industry by allowing limited exceptions from the prevailing yarn-forward rules of origin and by including tariff phaseouts for “sensitive apparel items” of 10 to 12 years.

Besides the basket of goods that will become duty-free upon entry into force (which include cotton shirts and cotton sweaters), TPP sets up three other categories for tariff reductions on apparel:

TPP apparel

Major exceptions other than the “short supply list” mechanism under TPP include:

  • An “earned import allowance program for cotton pants made in Vietnam from third-country fabric by importing a specified amount of U.S. cotton pants fabric. This would allow cotton pants from Vietnam would enter the U.S. duty-free as soon as the agreement is implemented. It is said the ratio for the program is “close” to 1:1. However, for men’s cotton pants, there could be a 15 million square meter equivalents (SMEs) annual cap until year 10, after which it will increase to 20 million. There is no quantitative limit for the other types of cotton pants that can be shipped under the program, such as women’s, girls’ and boys’ pants.
  • A limited list of cut-and-sew items that Vietnam and other TPP countries can ship to the U.S. under the preferential TPP duty rate. These include synthetic baby clothes, travel goods including handbags, and bras.

USTR Adjusts Language of TPP Negotiation Objectives for Textile and Apparel

On September 22, the U.S. Trade Representative Office (USTR) releases a detailed summary of its latest TPP negotiation objectives. Specifically for the textile and apparel chapter, compared with the negotiation objectives released in 2014, some wording changes are made this time:

UntitledDoes the change imply that the U.S. side has agreed to allow more exceptions to the “yarn-forward” rules of origin in TPP, but in the format other than “short supply list”? For example, will it be “earned import allowance” or tariff preference level (TPL)?

On the other hand, does the change imply that the “short supply list” under TPP will be stricter than previously expected? (in the 2014 version of the negotiation objectives, it read like the “short supply list” may include those products that are not commercially available in the US but are commercially available in other TPP members. However, in the 2015 version, only those products that are absolutely not commercially available in the whole TPP region are eligible for the “short supply list”.)

Sheng Lu

TPP Textile Negotiation Updates (March 2015)

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According to Inside US Trade, negotiators continued their work on the technical details of the textile chapter under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) during the latest round of negotiation in Hawaii. Although progress has been achieved, key issues remain unsolved.   Exceptions to Yarn-Forward Rule of Origin Since the 807A program under the Caribbean Basin Imitative (CBI) enacted in 1998, the so called “yarn-forward” rule of origin has been adopted in almost all free trade agreement (FTA) and trade preference program (TPA) reached between the United States and its trading partners. “Yarn forward” rule requires that each step of apparel production from spinning of the yarn must take place in one of the FTA countries. At the same time, FTA/TPA often adopt exceptions in addition to “yarn-forward” rule so as to provide flexibility to importers, especially in the case when certain textile and apparel products are not available in commercial quantities from the FTA/TPA region. It is almost certain at this point that TPP will continue to adopt the “yarn forward” rules of origin. However, what kind of exceptions to the yarn forward rule will be allowed in TPP remain unclear: 1) How long will be the “short supply” list in TPP? Short supply list is a mechanism which allows fibers, yarns, and fabrics determined not to be available in commercial quantities in a timely manner from within the FTA partner countries to be sourced from outside the countries for use in qualifying textile and apparel products. According to Inside US Trade, some TPP countries want to declare the short-supply list complete as soon as possible so that they can shift the discussion to other possible exceptions to the yarn-forward rule. However, others doubt that the U.S. would be willing to contemplate additional exceptions and therefore believe that the best approach is to keep the short-supply list open and try to add as many products as possible. 2) Whether there will be other exception mechanisms in TPP in addition to the “short supply” list? According to Inside US Trade, there were some discussions on creating a separate mechanism such as the tariff-preference levels (TPL) in TPP. TPL allows for a certain quantity of textile and apparel goods (usually yarns, fabrics and cut pieces) from a third-country (a country who is not a party to the agreement) to qualify for the FTA benefits. Additionally, it is more than just Vietnam that is seeking more exceptions to the “yarn forward” rule in TPP. For example, Australia and New Zealand are also doing so, which may be in large part for tactical reasons — essentially holding up the textile talks as leverage to secure acceptable outcomes in other areas that are more important to them, for instance, agricultural market access or intellectual property. Tariff Phrase-out Mechanism Inside US Trade says that U.S. is sticking to the framework that it laid out in its initial tariff offer, which put products into three categories subject to different phrase-out schedule:

  • X-basket, which covers the most sensitive products that would be subject to an initial cut upon entry into force, but then remain in place until they are eliminated in the tenth year for knit apparel and fifteenth year for woven apparel
  • B-basket, which consists of slightly more sensitive apparel items that would be subject to a linear tariff phase-out over five years
  • A-basket, which consists of least sensitive items whose tariff rate would go to zero immediately upon TPP entries into force

Key questions remain as to which items the United States will place into what basket. Other issues in the textile chapter The TPP textile chapter may also include languages on the following two issues: 1) a special safeguard mechanism under which the importing country can raise tariffs up to the most-favored nation (MFN) level in the case of an import surge; 2) customs language on the inspection mechanism.

Why does the US Textile Industry Want Yan-forward Rule of Origin (RoO) in TPP?

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My personal understanding: the US textile industry insists yarn-forward RoO in TPP is not because they expect a substantial increase of textile exports to Vietnam as the case of NAFTA and CAFTA which help capture the export markets in Mexico and Central America. But rather it is because:

1) Without yarn-forward, situation will get even worse. Particularly, a less restrictive RoO will make Vietnam’s apparel exports which contain textiles made in China, Taiwan or South Korea qualified for duty free access to the US market. Definitely this will be a more imminent and bigger threat to the US textile industry than simply facing competition from Vietnam’s apparel which contains Japanese made textiles. And still many US textile companies don’t treat the Japanese textile industry very seriously, although I think they should. Remember, Japan currently is the fourth largest textile supplier to Vietnam and the NO.1 textile supplier to China.

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2) With yarn-forward RoO in place, at least US textile companies can invest in Vietnam (remember, globalization is about movement of capital as well. Many apparel companies in Mexico and Central America actually are invested by US companies). Without yarn-forward RoO however, Vietnam can simply rely on imported textiles as the case mentioned in (1) and there will be no incentive for US textile companies to move factories to Vietnam (meaning, capital holders will lose).  

So overall yarn-forward RoO may win a few more years for the US textile industry. But in the long run, it is my view that the US textile production and its exports to the Western Hemisphere countries may still inevitably decline (especially those output to be used for apparel assembly purposes) after the implementation of TPP. In the 21st century, the nature of competition is supply chain v.s. supply chain. 

The future of the US textile industry is those high-end markets, particularly technical & industrial textiles.  

Sheng Lu 

Additional Reading: The potential impact of TPP on the US textile industry