Hong Kong is an important apparel sourcing hub for US, according to the AAFA

Hong Kong is an important apparel sourcing hub for US, according to the AAFA

Hong Kong is the gateway to the burgeoning Asian market and an important hub for sourcing apparel in the region, US retailers have said.

Hosting an American Chamber of Commerce summit this week, Juanita Duggan, chief executive of the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), said US and Hong Kong businesses have shared a “special relationship” over the years.

“These strong ties and mutual interests are particularly strong in the industry I represent, the apparel and footwear industry. For decades now, this relationship has been good for manufacturers and workers in Asia, designers and marketers in the US, and consumers throughout the world.

"The fact is we are a global industry. And as our association is comprised of global brands, we have a global perspective.”

Duggan was at the event with other industry leaders to share ideas and discuss future challenges, one of which she said was in the area of social responsibility. In particular, she pointed to Bangladesh where she said the industry is engaged in a process of continuous improvement.

However, she pointed out that while the industry is moving in the right direction with social responsibility, that it could do more.

“We aspire to do more. Part of the role of an association is to lead the way. That is one of the reasons we’re in Asia and hosting this summit. Asia matters in how we’re going to get there.”

She added: “As an industry, we need to ensure that everybody in our supply chain - owners, workers, everyone – is treated with dignity. Upholding these social responsibilities is not only the right thing to do, it is part of doing good business. And the reality is it is no longer good enough to be compliant.”

Duggan also pointed to the challenge trade negotiations present and how driving policy on them requires a solid understanding of the political climate in the US, and how that affects the industry now and in the future.

"Whatever way Washington goes next year [elections], the role of a trade association is to be prepared, and the best way to be prepared is to develop relationships," she said. 

“One area where bipartisan relationships are essential is in trade policy. Today, we eagerly await the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement – or TPP. But, let me take a step back for moment. Let’s imagine the US government could wipe away the current agreements and start over. What would US trade policy look like if we had the luxury of starting all over again?

“My members will tell you that trade agreements need to be more cohesive.”

Past free trade agreements, Duggan says, resulted in disjointed standards and requirements - at best, were inconsistent, and at worst conflicted with one another.

“It is very challenging to work around different agreements in the course of sourcing or setting up supply chains. The inconsistencies can create absurd situations.”

She offers an example where members of the industry have developed strong regional supply chains in the western hemisphere, but must deal with a region split into six very different trade agreements and one preference programme. And with a small number of limited exceptions, the agreements and the programme don’t talk with each other, she explained.

“This makes no sense. Perhaps a better model is one offered by the European Union. When they negotiate new trade deals, they link them up to their previous free trade agreements.”