Legislation that suggests extending the US' largest duty-free trade preference programme by ten years and allowing textiles, apparel and footwear to be included for the first time, has been welcomed by apparel retailers and importers.

The New Partnership for Trade Development Act of 2009 (H.R. 4101), was introduced on Wednesday (18 November) by Representative Jim McDermott, D-Wash, a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee's Trade Subcommittee.

The bill would reauthorise the Generalized System of Preferences for 10 years after it expires on 31 December.

It would also expand the list of products eligible for tariff-free treatment under the programme by including textiles, apparel and footwear.

The measure would also expand benefits for poor countries outside sub-Saharan Africa under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) by providing more liberal rules on how products quality for preferential treatment.

"Extending the Generalized System of Preferences for 10 years would give retailers the stability they need when making long-term business decisions and ensure that US consumers can continue to buy the affordable products they're looking for in today's economic climate," says Erik Autor vice president and international trade counsel at the National Retail Federation (NRF).

Adding clothing and shoes to the list of products that receive duty-free treatment is seen as important because they are in high demand in the US and are produced by the countries that participate in this programme.

"Including these products in GSP would be a major step forward both for US consumers and for promoting economic development and job creation in the world's poorest countries," Autor said.

"This bill will help move forward the debate in Congress on improving our system of trade preferences."

Congressional action on reforming long-term trade preference "is well overdue," agrees Kevin Burke, president and CEO of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA).

He hopes the bill will launch a full discussion about greater trade preference reform - and "create real opportunities for the US apparel and footwear industry by incorporating predictability, simplicity and flexibility in US trade preference programmes."

The United States has six trade preference programmes that offer duty-free treatment or reduced duties on specified lists of imports from developing countries in Central America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia, each with its own specific rules.