The US is taking steps to end uncertainty for apparel and textile firms sourcing from sub-Saharan Africa and Central America after Congress agreed to advance bills containing "critical fixes" to two key trade agreements.

The proposals to renew third-country fabric provision under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), and modify some of the textile rule of origin provisions under the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), could be fast-tracked ahead of the month-long recess lawmakers take in August.

The third-country fabric provision under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is currently set to expire in September 2012, and its extension to September 2015 would enable least-developed countries (LDCs) to continue to enjoy duty-free access for apparel made from fabric originating anywhere in the world.

Uncertainty over its extension have already seen a 35% drop in US orders for shipment of African exports after the slated expiration date, according to the US trade representative. African textile exports have also dropped by 27% in the last year.

With global sourcing decisions for apparel typically made up to nine months in advance, there is an urgency to extend the TCF provision now to ensure production remains with AGOA beneficiary countries.

The potential collapse of AGOA apparel exports - if third country fabric is not extended - will also impact cotton and textile inputs, and would significantly weaken the prospects for the development of a viable and more vertically integrated African cotton-to-apparel value chain.

As far as CAFTA-DR is concerned, the fixes would apply to rules of origin for textile products from Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

In particular, the modifications provide certainty of duty-free treatment for women's and girls' woven pyjama bottoms and clarify how certain items will be treated on the textiles "short supply" list of the FTA.

Another change would be to fix a long-standing loophole under the trade pact by requiring all sewing thread, monofilament and plied, to originate in the US/DR-CAFTA region.

US exports of textiles and apparel to the CAFTA-DR region were $3.8bn in the 12-months ending February 2012, and increased 15% over the same period the year before. US imports of textiles and apparel from the CAFTA-DR region were $8.0bn from March 2011 through February 2012, a rise of 10% year-on-year. Around 73% of those imports were made from either US or regional yarns and fabrics.