Trade hearings underway in Washington this week on proposed US tariffs on Chinese goods have divided opinion between the US textile industry on the one side, and US apparel and footwear brands and importers on the other.

In his testimony today (17 May), Auggie Tantillo, president and CEO of the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO), urged the Trump administration to include textile and apparel end products in any Section 301 retaliatory tariff action against China.

The move prompted a furious statement from Rick Helfenbein, president and CEO of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), questioning NCTO's "request to raise taxes on American consumers."

He explains: "Tariffs are a tax – plain and simple – and levying tariffs on US imports will directly raise our costs here at home.

"It is unrealistic to think that textile and apparel supply chains can quickly or simply shift production outside China without massive disruption that will lead to cost increases and significant retail price inflation in the United States – which will fall disproportionately hard on low-income Americans."

The Trump administration is preparing to make a decision on whether to impose additional 25% tariffs on more than $50bn worth of Chinese goods – with an even larger list of additional goods, collectively valued at $100bn, also under consideration.

While apparel and footwear are not included on the first list, they will possibly be back in contention if the tariff increases are extended to additional products imported from China.

The move is part of a Section 301 investigation by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) into unfair Chinese technology and intellectual property policies and practices.

But Tantillo blames "China's predatory, illegal trade actions, including IPR theft," for contributing "to the loss of millions of US manufacturing jobs, including hundreds of thousands in textiles."

He adds: "China's domination of global textile markets has clearly been aided by its rampant theft of US textile intellectual property. From the violation of patents on high performance fibres, yarns and fabrics to the infringement of copyrighted designs on textile home furnishings, China has gained pricing advantages through blatantly illegal activities.  

"Putting 301 tariffs on Chinese textile and apparel exports would send a long overdue signal that these predatory actions will no longer be tolerated."

Helfenbein urges all sides to "stay focused on the original intent of the Section 301 investigation, which is to deal with the problem of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfer in China.

"The investigation was not established to provide the Federal Government with the means to pick winners and losers in the free market. Tariffs will not solve the underlying problem of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfer."

While not featuring apparel and footwear, the list of products imported from China on which new tariffs could apply does include machinery used in the domestic manufacturing of apparel, footwear, and textile products.

"For the record, we do agree with our NCTO colleagues that textile machinery should not be slapped with tariffs, as those tariffs – like the ones they are proposing on finished products and other textile inputs – would also add costs, raise prices on Americans, and hamper the Made in USA movement," Helfenbein adds.

As reported on just-style earlier today, US apparel groups have already made their case against tariffs, raising concerns over disruption to supply chains, higher prices for back-to-school and holiday merchandise, and the negative impact on American consumers and businesses.