From left: Robert Antoshak, managing director of Olah Inc, speaks with Steve Lamar, executive vice president of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), and Jon Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation (NRF)

From left: Robert Antoshak, managing director of Olah Inc, speaks with Steve Lamar, executive vice president of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), and Jon Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation (NRF)

The current state of play when it comes to NAFTA renegotiations, the Trump administration's trade policy, China Section 301, what's going on with retail, where next for supply chains, US labelling requirements, and Made-in-USA were among the many topics covered in the latest 'Kingpins Goes to D.C.' panel discussion.

The event, which is available to watch on demand exclusively on just-style, saw host Robert Antoshak, managing director of Olah Inc, joined by panellists Steve Lamar, executive vice president of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), and Jon Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation (NRF).

Here we highlight some of the threads, but you can also click on the following link to tune into the whole discussion:

Kingpins Goes to DC – Apparel retail, global supply chains, Trump, trade and NAFTA

NAFTA negotiations

"We've been arguing that as this NAFTA modernisation exercise moves forward it should be done with a couple of principles: there should be no harm done to it; and if there are any changes they should be implemented in a seamless manner so we can make sure companies can comply and educate their supply chain partners," says Lamar.

"NAFTA has been around for 23 years, and there certainly are opportunities to update and improve the agreement to match what today's global value chain actually looks like," agrees Gold. "There are certain elements that didn't exist back when NAFTA was first negotiated...things like digital trade, electronic commerce. So we're all in favour of taking a look at NAFTA and trying to figure out how to modernise it and make it better."

On rules of origin, both executives want the yarn-forward flexibilities to remain, fearing a more restrictive NAFTA could force companies to move their supply chains outside the North American region altogether.

Trump trade policy

Could the NAFTA renegotiation also be a 'test' for the Trump administration's trade policy going forward?

"It's tough to say what the Trump trade policy is...everything that we've heard thus far is talking about US manufacturing and bringing jobs back to the US," Gold notes.

"We represent retailers, importers, [who] employ 42m workers here in the US, so it's about trying to make sure that trade policy relies on what these companies do and how they're looking at their value chains, and recognising that you can't make everything here in the US."

Lamar concurs. "We're now in the formative stages of trying to understand exactly what this administration is hoping to accomplish. NAFTA will be the poster child for that.

"The Trump administration is trying to do a couple of things right now: they're reviewing everything; they've put out multiple requests for comment, almost at an unprecedented level – asking about trade deficits, trade agreements, buy American policies.

"So they're spending a lot of time surveying the trade landscape. And at the same time they want to move quickly. How all those things come together remains to be seen."

Does free trade need an update?

"One of the interesting things that's come out of the investigations by the administration and a lot of the comments from the President is that we're seeing more support for free trade now," says Gold. "You're seeing people who depend on NAFTA becoming more vocal and talking about the importance of the agreement for their jobs, for the consumer. So what this has done is put more of a focus on companies to engage, and talk about why trade is good."

"The thing that probably needs the most work is Americans understanding how they benefit from free trade; how many jobs are created by trade," Lamar adds.

What's going on in the retail market?

"First and foremost, retail is not dying despite what you hear in the news," says Gold. "Just like every other industry, retail's going through an evolution; retail has changed because consumer demand has changed, the way customers buy their products has changed, and retailers are trying to figure out the best way to get their product to the customer. So while you hear a lot of doom and gloom about retail stores and malls closing, what you're not hearing is the number of retailers who are actually opening stores. And the jobs that are now being created in retail are not the typical salesperson jobs; a lot of them are IT related jobs, warehouse and logistics jobs."

What do you see for the supply chain in 10 years?

"Supply chains that are able to be a lot more nimble, to react quicker, are going to be required, and supply chains that can generate data so you can make decisions...and decisions on the fly," Lamar believes. "Going forward, as you have more products being made with a quick response model you're going to be looking for that time-sensitive information."

Gold agrees. "Looking 10 years down the line, having access to the information to allow you to make better decisions is critical. There are a lot of issues now where you don't have that visibility or information that lead to a lot of inefficiencies in the supply chain. So hopefully having visibility to that information, having that connectivity, will allow better efficiency throughout the system.

US labelling requirements and a return of Made-in-USA

"Our labelling requirements are really antiquated," Lamar laments. "70% of the value of an imported garment is US value associated with activities that occur in the US; [but] the labelling requirement will say made in China or wherever. It talks about where the cutting and sewing occur, it doesn't talk about the planning, the design, the audit control...all the other value that makes that product the product the consumer's going to want to buy."

"Just because it's not assembled here in the US, there are US jobs associated with that [product]," Gold adds. "That's part of the message we need to get out to the general public: just because you see a label that's Made in China doesn't mean there isn't a US job associated with it."

In terms of Made-in-USA, "we've been tracking an increase since 2009," Lamar notes. "It's very small when you look at it from the import side, but when you look at it from the Made-in-USA side it's 20%, 30% increase every year. And what's going on is more and more companies are finding the business case: why does it make sense for them to produce in the US. That's an important development that will continue."

Click on the following link to watch the whole discussion:

Kingpins Goes to DC – Apparel retail, global supply chains, Trump, trade and NAFTA