While addressing the audience at the National Council of Textile Organisations (NCTO)’s 20th annual meeting, USTR ambassador Tai highlighted that her priority has been to put “US back into USTR.”

She noted US trade policies had disadvantage textile workers and vowed change.

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“We are coming to you, meeting you where you are, where you work and raise your families.”

She mentioned that her frequent visit to manufacturing facilities gives her “first-hand experience of the cutting-edge technologies” and how the manufacturers are using green production processes to shrink the industry’s carbon footprint.

Tai believes that visiting facilities is also a valuable experience because she gets to witness the resilient and innovative spirit, and learns more about the businesses and workers, including the communities they support.

New trade approach: don’t pit “Americans against Americans”

She further highlighted that the new trade approach is centered around working families and strives for resilience and durable growth. According to her, the new approach addresses and advances the interests of all parts of the economy and does not pit “Americans against Americans.”

Tai added the new approach is also based in “fairness and fair competition, alleging that USTR understands how the People’s Republic of China’s unfair trade practices have wreaked havoc in the apparel and textile industry.

She also pointed out that USTR has been working with its trading partners around this issue, and at the same time is also using trade tools to defend the industry.

Moreover, Tai said that USTR is actively working to reduce reliance on products and inputs from distant shores, especially from economies that do not share the same values. This, she added, would include incentivising US and regionally-based production.

USTR recently published a public notice as well, seeking broad input on supply chain resilience. The organisation is of the view that this is about “proactively strengthening domestic manufacturing and about creating strategic arrangements with trusted partners and with regional partners.”

Calling for cooperation

Tai said: “One of the stories that came out of the pandemic was how our textile manufacturers were told your industry is not that strategic. In fact, you had been told this for a long time. During the height of the pandemic, it was your industry that was able to step up quickly, to repurpose your capabilities to produce essential equipment—like surgical masks and medical-grade gloves. Companies that would normally be competing with each other worked together to deliver for the country.

“I know the challenges you all have faced in the last several decades and are continuing to face today. We saw so much production leave the United States, in part because of our trade policies. Plants shuttered, and many of your companies and workers suffered. This also had devastating effects for your broader communities and many small businesses that are part of your communities. When people lose their jobs, or cannot earn a living wage, the effects ripple out far and wide.”

Tai argued that an important part of the administration’s work is to create meaningful economic opportunity in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, quoting how this initiative has galvanised more than $5.2bn in private sector commitments in northern Central America.

She believes these investments and sourcing commitments will help increase economic opportunities in these countries, and promote greater near-shoring and support American jobs that provide the yarns and fabrics that go into Central American apparel production.

Tai said: “We want to work with all stakeholders to bring more production back to this hemisphere, while also strengthening regional supply chains and supporting good-paying jobs in the United States and Central America. This is how we grow together; this is how we incentivise a race to the top for our people.”

She also called for cooperation from all organisations, stating: “This is how we can address today’s most pressing challenges and build durable growth by lifting up more diverse voices across our societies, especially those of underserved communities. This is also how we can work with other countries to build our middle classes together, and not pit them against each other.”

She further shared that USTR is currently in the middle of the statutory four-year review of the PRC Section 301 tariffs and is awaiting the outcome.

Additionally, the NCTO chairman Norman Chapman highlighted the severe economic challenges facing the US textile industry during the 20th Annual Meeting on 11 April.