U.S. textile and apparel trade with NAFTA members
- The United States maintains a bilateral trade surplus in yarns and fabrics ($4.1 billion in 2016) as well as made-up textiles ($720 million in 2016) with NAFTA members.
- Regarding apparel, the United States had a trade surplus with Canada of $1.4 billion and a trade deficit with Mexico of $2.7 billion in 2016.
Impact of NAFTA on employment and production in the U.S. textile and apparel industry
- The effects of NAFTA are NOT straightforward, and the drop in U.S. domestic textile and apparel production and jobs cannot be blamed solely on NAFTA.
- The U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) concluded that imports of textiles had a tiny effect on U.S. textile industry employment (a 0.4% decline) from 1998 to 2014, which covers most of the period since NAFTA’s enactment. However, the collapse of the U.S. domestic apparel industry and changing clothing tastes may have had a more significant impact on domestic textile production.
- There is little evidence that NAFTA was the decisive factor for the loss of jobs in the U.S. apparel manufacturing sector, given that the major growth in apparel manufacturing for the U.S. market has occurred in Asian countries that receive no preferences under NAFTA.
Impact of the Tariff Preference Level (TPL) in NAFTA
- In nearly every year since 2010, Mexico has come close to exporting the maximum allowable amount of cotton and man-made fiber apparel with duty-free foreign content. Canada’s TPL fill rates are typically highest for cotton and man-made fiber fabric and made-up products but are not usually fully filled.
- It is not clear that eliminating the TPL program would result in a substantial return of textile production or jobs to the United States; if it were to raise the cost of Mexican apparel production, it could instead result in imports from other countries displacing imports from Mexico.
- Other than U.S. fashion brands and retailers, Mexico and Canada reportedly oppose the elimination of the NAFTA TPL program too.
Possible Effects of Potential NAFTA Modification
- Mexico’s focus on basic apparel items suggests that S. importers could quickly source from elsewhere if duty savings under NAFTA are eliminated. However, even now, some U.S. fashion companies say the duty savings are not worth the time and resources required to comply with the NAFTA rules of origin and documentation requirements. In 2016, roughly 16% of qualifying textile and apparel imports from NAFTA failed to take advantage of the duty-free benefits and instead paid applicable tariffs.
- Whatever the outcome of the NAFTA renegotiation, in the medium and long run, the profitability of the North American textile and apparel industry will likely depend less on NAFTA preferences such as yarn forward and more on the capacity of producers in the region to innovate to remain globally competitive.
- One change in NAFTA proposed by the United States would require motor vehicles to have 85% North American content and 50% U.S. content to qualify for tariff-free treatment. If auto manufacturers were to import more passenger cars from outside the NAFTA region and pay the 2.5% U.S. import duty rather than complying with stricter domestic content requirements, automotive demand for U.S.-made technical textiles could be adversely affected.
- If the TPP-11 countries strike a trade deal, one possible effect is that Canada and Mexico may import more textile and apparel products from other TPP countries, including Vietnam. This could ultimately be a disadvantage for U.S.-based producers. How the inclusion of Canada and Mexico in a fresh TPP-11 arrangement would affect their participation in NAFTA is unknown.
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