Blog: Leonie BarrieWhat’s Obama's textile policy?

Leonie Barrie | 6 November 2008

At last the wait is over. The US and the world yesterday (5 November) woke up to the news that Barack Obama has been elected as the new president of the United States, securing a victory in one of the longest, most expensive and most hotly contested presidential elections in years.

But now the election race has been won, the journey there is probably going to seem like the easy part of the ride. Obama’s message of change might have dominated the headlines, but he not only faces the daunting task of turning around a weakening economy, he also has to contain America’s war in Iraq and Afghanistan and help bring the world out of recession.

So it’s probably not unreasonable to assume that textile and apparel issues won’t be at the top of his agenda for some time to come.

But what is his stance on trade? Well we know Obama’s general position during his presidential campaign has been to support the American manufacturing sector in an attempt to save jobs.

“That means opening markets abroad for our manufactured exports, and including enforceable labour and environmental standards in free trade agreements,” he says. “It also means strong enforcement of our trade remedy laws at home and of our trade rights abroad.”

Obama's campaign also said it would amend the North American Free Trade Agreement and end tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas.

And we also know from a letter sent to the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) last month, some of his thoughts on issues facing the US apparel and textile industry specifically.

These include promises to launch a programme to monitor imports of Chinese textiles and apparel once safeguards are removed at the end of this year, to preserve the yarn forward rule in free trade agreements, to support the “buy America” Berry Amendment, and to increase funding and enforcements efforts regarding unfair trade practices.

He also pledged to use all diplomatic means to end currency manipulation by the Chinese government to boost exports and discourage imports.

All of which hints that the election of Barak Obama and a wider majority for Democrats in the US Congress could result in less “free textile trade” that sends jobs overseas and more “fair textile trade” in the coming years.

But perhaps more important than what the President-elect did say on textile and apparel trade was what he didn’t.

He didn’t provide an answer regarding textile issues in the Doha Round; he said he would determine trade remedy cases “on their merits”; and he simply said he would use import monitoring to “help ensure that imports from China do not violate applicable laws and treaties.” Which is exactly what’s happening.

So depite the hopes of the US protectionists, perhaps the new government won’t be showing a tougher attitude towards China after all. 


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