On Tuesday (July 17, 2017), the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) released its detailed and comprehensive summary of the renegotiating objectives of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In the statement, USTR says that “through the renegotiation of NAFTA, the Trump Administration will seek a much better agreement that reduces the U.S. trade deficit and is fair for all Americans by improving market access in Canada and Mexico for U.S. manufacturing, agriculture, and services.”
Several released negotiating objectives address textile and apparel (T&A) directly or are highly relevant to the sector:
Trade in Goods
- Improve the U.S. trade balance and reduce the trade deficit with the NAFTA countries.
- Maintain existing duty-free access to NAFTA country markets for U.S. textile and apparel products and seek to improve competitive opportunities for exports of U.S. textile and apparel products while taking into account U.S. import sensitivities.
Rules of Origin
- Update and strengthen the rules of origin, as necessary, to ensure that the benefits of NAFTA go to products genuinely made in the United States and North America.
- Ensure the rules of origin incentivize the sourcing of goods and materials from the United States and North America.
- Establish origin procedures that streamline the certification and verification of rules of origin and that promote strong enforcement, including with respect to textiles.
- -Establish origin procedures that streamline the certification and verification of rules of origin and that promote strong enforcement, including with respect to textiles.
Customs and Trade Facilitation
- Provide for automation of import, export, and transit processes, including through supply chain integration; reduced import, export, and transit forms, documents, and formalities; enhanced harmonization of customs data requirements; and advance rulings regarding the treatment that will be provided to a good at the time of importation.
- Notably, reducing the trade deficit and bringing more manufacturing jobs back to the United States are at the core of the NAFTA’s renegotiating objectives. These two goals are also highly consistent with Trump’s rhetoric on his trade policy.
- A dilemma facing the T&A sectoral negotiation is that the United States currently runs a robust trade surplus with Canada and Mexico for textiles: in 2016, the value of U.S. trade surplus (i.e. the value of exports minus the value of imports) totaled $680 million for yarns (up 56.7% from 1994), $4,342 million for fabrics (up 202.9% from 1994) and $1,461 million for made-up textiles (up 223.5% from 1994). Meanwhile, although the United States is in a trade deficit with NAFTA partners for apparel ($1,130 million in 2016), U.S. apparel imports from Canada and Mexico often contain textile inputs “Made in the USA” through the Western-Hemisphere supply chain. Blindly cutting the trade deficit on apparel ironically could affect the U.S. textile exports to the NAFTA region negatively.
- Based on the released objectives, it seems unlikely that the NAFTA renegotiation will liberalize the yarn-forward rules of origin for textile and apparel. On the contrary, USTR could review the current exceptions to the yarn-forward rules, including the tariff preference levels (TPL) and some special regimes such as the 9802 program related to fabric sourcing to strengthen the manufacturing base and create MANUFACTURING jobs in the United States. Recognizing the competing arguments between the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry (fashion brands and retailers) regarding the necessity and impact of these exceptions, USTR also needs more inputs of how companies use exceptions like the TPL in sourcing and why they use them.
- Other than the rules of origin, trade facilitation and customs enforcement will be another major agenda related to the T&A sector in the NAFTA renegotiation. Elements from the newly enforced Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 could be added to the updated NAFTA.
- A positive aspect of the NAFTA T&A sectoral negotiation is that all parties alongside the supply chain, from U.S. cotton growers, textile mills to apparel retailers and brands recognize the value of NAFTA and no one calls for pulling out of the agreement. It is also a consensus view of the U.S. T&A industry that NAFTA renegotiation should “do no harm”, i.e. strengthening rather than weakening the current supply-chain partnership between NAFTA members. Additionally, stakeholders in the U.S. T&A industry unanimously support keeping the renegotiation trilateral, but agree to use bilateral provisions to address some particular concerns.
- The NAFTA renegotiation may officially start on August 17 or 18, 2017. However, Time is the enemy of the NAFTA renegotiation. While there is a strong incentive for all parties to finish the negotiation by the end of 2017 given the upcoming U.S. mid-term election and the Mexican presidential election in 2018, the ambitious renegotiation agenda makes it extremely challenging to meet that goal. Risks are still there that Trump may pull the United States out of NAFTA should he lose patience for the renegotiation. Notably, Trump’s dislike of NAFTA is real.