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May 1, 2020

US textile sector urges ‘Buy American’ policy for PPE

The National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) is urging the US government to introduce Buy American policy changes to help bolster manufacturers producing personal protective equipment (PPE) and safeguard new supply chains.

By Beth Wright

The National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) is urging the US government to introduce Buy American policy changes to help bolster manufacturers producing personal protective equipment (PPE) and safeguard new supply chains.

In statement Kim Glas, CEO of Washington, DC-based NCTO, which represents US textile manufacturers, including artificial and synthetic filament and fibre producers, says if the government is sincere about reconstituting a US production chain for medical PPE to resolve the drastic shortages experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is going to have to make key policy changes to help incentivise domestic production.

“A strong Buy American mandate for these vital healthcare materials needs to be instituted for all federal agencies, coupled with other reasonable production incentives, to help ensure a strong US  manufacturing base for these essential products,” she says.

Glas cites the US Department of Defense as an “excellent” example, which operates under a fibre-to-finished product Buy American rule for military textiles.

“This rule ensures that the vital textile materials our US warfighters depend upon, come from a secure domestic production chain that cannot be severed during a military emergency by offshore entities.

“There is a bipartisan call for action as members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have begun to acknowledge the need for these types of reasonable and essential policy changes. 

“Expanding domestic purchase requirements through executive order and other legislative initiatives will ensure that PPE production through US supply chains that have been created overnight don’t evaporate as soon as this crisis is over.”

An increasing number of fashion firms have mobilised their production facilities and supply chains to help address the global shortage of PPE, including face masks and hospital gowns, amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

In the midst of the crisis, Glas says failure to confront the challenge will allow for “a repeat of the sins of the past that allowed sourcing agents to offshore the entire production of medical PPE in search of lucrative profits.”

She adds: “While chasing the lowest cost import may have seemed cost-effective at the time, these past few months have demonstrated that we paid a deadly price through this approach by jeopardising the very lives of frontline medical personnel that are fighting the pandemic.   

“This is a national security issue. It’s also a vital healthcare issue and it is decision time for US policymakers. If our country is to be prepared for future deadly pandemics such as the one it is now facing, reasonable policy changes need to be implemented to ensure that we strengthen our domestic supply chain to address America’s security, safety and healthcare requirements.”

The value of US textile and apparel shipments was US$75.8bn in 2019, according to the NCTO, with some 585,240 people employed in the textile supply chain during the year. US exports of fibre, textiles and apparel, meanwhile, totalled $29.1bn in 2019, while capital expenditure for textile and apparel production totalled $2.5bn in 2018, the last year for which data is available.

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