New legislation that would give duty-free access to the US for imports of apparel and footwear from most least developed countries (LDCs) and African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) countries has been slammed by US textile groups.

The New Partnership for Development Act (NPDA), which has been proposed by Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA), has been described by the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition (AMTAC) as "a substantial threat" to the US textile industry.

The bill is aimed at helping the world's poorest countries, and also provides capacity-building resources and incentives for market-based and sustainable economic growth.

With the exception of Bangladesh and Cambodia, most least developed countries already get duty-free access for their exports of apparel. Specific concerns centre on plans to give Bangladesh and Cambodia duty free access to the US market for the first time in most apparel categories.

China is also feared to be a major beneficiary as it supplies almost all the yarns and fabrics used in Bangladeshi and Cambodian apparel exports.

"Bangladesh and Cambodia may be LDCs by per capita income, but they are global superpowers in terms of apparel exports," said AMTAC executive director Auggie Tantillo. 

"With exports so large in those products, tariff eliminations are unwarranted and will serve as just another giveaway of US market share to China."

The National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) and the labour union Unite Here have also expressed their concerns over the legislation.

While the McDermott bill includes a cap on exports of certain apparel categories from Bangladesh and Cambodia, the annual available growth rate is 15%. 

AMTAC calculates that if Bangladesh and Cambodia both grow at the full 15%, they will overtake DR-CAFTA exports to the United States within three years.

Importers and retailers, however, stand to gain from the duty savings which will average around 17%.

Kevin M Burke, president and CEO, of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), said the NPDA "empowers least developed nations with tangible market access and predictability - the building blocks for economic development and investment."