Apparel Specific Rules of Origin in NAFTA 2.0 (US-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement)

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The full article is available HERE

Key findings:

First, in general, USMCA still adopts the so-called “yarn-forward” rules of origin. This means that fibers may be produced anywhere, but each component starting with the yarn used to make the garments must be formed within the free trade area – that is, by USMCA members. 

Second, other than the source of yarns and fabrics, USMCA now requires that some specific parts of an apparel item (such as pocket bag fabric) need to use inputs made in the USMCA region so that the finished apparel item can qualify for the import duty-free treatment.

Third, USMCA allows a relatively more generous De minimis than NAFTA 1.0.

Fourth, USMCA seems to be a “balanced deal” that has accommodated the arguments from all sides regarding the tariff preference level (TPL) mechanism:

  • 1) Compared with NAFTA, USMCA will cut the TPL level, but only to those product categories with a low TPL utilization rate;
  • 2) Compared with NAFTA, USMCA will expand the TPL level for a few product categories with a high TPL utilization rate.

Fifth, USMCA will make no change to the Commercial availability/short supply list mechanism in NAFTA 1.0.

Sixth, it remains to be seen whether USMCA will boost Made-in-the-USA fibers, yarns and fabrics by limiting the use of non-USMCA textile inputs. For example, while the new agreement expands the TPL level for U.S. cotton/man-made fiber apparel exports to Canada (currently with a 100 percent utilization rate), these apparel products are NOT required to use U.S.-made yarns and fabrics. The utilization rate of USMCA will also be important to watch in the future.

About USMCA

On 30 September 2018, The United States reached an agreement with Canada, alongside Mexico on the updated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), now called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA)

Before taking into effect, USMCA still needs to be ratified by all member countries. In the United States, the earliest that President Trump can sign the agreement will be 11/29/2018 (i.e., 90 days after notifying the Congress). The U.S. International Trade Commission has until 3/14/2019 (i.e., 150 days after President signing the agreement) to release an assessment of the new trade agreement. Afterward, the Trump Administration will need to work with the Congress to develop legislation to approve and implement the agreement.

U.S. and Mexico Reached a Deal to Replace NAFTA

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The Office of U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) announced that the United States and Mexico have “reached a preliminary agreement in principle” to update the 24-year old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). According to USTR, compared with the existing NAFTA, the new deal will

  • strengthen the labor and environmental protection provisions
  • provide stronger and more effective protection and enforcement of intellectual property right protection
  • reduce various non-tariff barriers facing U.S. agriculture exports
  • include new rules of origin and origin procedures for autos (including requiring 75 percent of auto content be made in the United States and Mexico AND 40-45 percent of auto content be made by workers earning at least $16 per hour.)
  • include new chapters dealing with digital trade and textiles
  • include a 16-year “sunset period” with a review every six years, at which time the parties can renew the deal for another 16 years.

Specifically for the textile and apparel sector, USTR said that “The new provisions on textiles incentivize greater United States and Mexican production in textiles and apparel trade, strengthen customs enforcement, and facilitate broader consultation and cooperation among the Parties on issues related to textiles and apparel trade.” More specifically, the new textile chapter in renegotiated NAFTA will:

1) Promote greater use of Made-in-the-USA fibers, yarns, and fabrics by limiting rules that allow for some use of non-NAFTA inputs in textile and apparel trade; and requiring that sewing thread, pocketing fabric, narrow elastic bands, and coated fabric, when incorporated in apparel and other finished products, be made in the region for those finished products to qualify for trade benefits. “

2) Include textile-specific verification and customs cooperation provisions that provide new tools for strengthening customs enforcement and preventing fraud and circumvention.

Based on USTR’s statement, it is likely, although not confirmed, that the US-Mexico deal will allow more limited tariff preference level (TPL) than the existing NAFTA.

USTR’s statement also said that the new deal would be subject to “finalization and implementation,” and its relationship with NAFTA remain unclear. The statement did not mention anything about Canada, another NAFTA member, either. Interesting enough, when announcing the US-Mexico deal in front of the press, President Trump said I will terminate the existing deal (NAFTA).  When that happens, I can’t quite tell you; it depends on what the timetable is with Congress.  But I’ll be terminating the existing deal and going into this deal.  We’ll start negotiating with Canada relatively soon.”

In a statement released on the same day, the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) said it welcomed the conclusion of bilateral talks with Mexico on NAFTA and emphasized the need for Canada to be a part of any final agreement: “The conclusion of talks between the U.S. and Mexico is a positive step in the NAFTA negotiations, however, it is essential that the updated agreement remain trilateral. At the same time, we encourage the administration to share the details of the agreement so the business community can inspect the impact on North American supply chains and share feedback with the administration and Congress…Any update to the agreement must continue to support these American jobs, promote trade linkages, and be seamlessly implemented to be considered a success. It is with this in mind that we are deeply concerned to hear any mention of withdrawal or termination of the existing agreement at this late stage.”

According to Inside U.S. Trade, the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) which represents the U.S. textile industry says it is “encouraged by the information released by USTR with respect to strengthening the rules of origin for textiles and apparel in the announced agreement with Mexico. U.S. talks with Canada are still ongoing, however, and NCTO will wait to review the text of any final agreement before issuing a more detailed statement on the negotiation outcome.”

US Tables Proposal Aimed at Limiting the Yarn-Forward Exceptions in NAFTA Renegotiation

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According to Inside US Trade, in the third round the NAFTA renegotiation (September 23-27, 2017), the United States has put forward several possible changes to the existing rules related to textile and apparel in the agreement:

  1. USTR proposes to eliminate the tariff preference level (TPL) in NAFTA. The goal of eliminating TPL is to limit the exceptions to the yarn-forward rules of origin and “incentivize” more production in the NAFTA region as advocated by the U.S. textile industry.
  2. As a potential replacement for TPL, USTR also proses to add a short supply list mechanism to NAFTA, but details remain unclear (e.g., whether the list will be temporary or permanent; the application process).
  3. USTR further proposes a new chapter devoted to textile and apparel in NAFTA in line with more recent agreements negotiated by the U.S.. The current NAFTA does not include a textile chapter.

USTR’s proposal to remove TPL in NAFTA has met strong opposition from the U.S. apparel industry, fashion retailers, and brands as well as their partners in Mexico and Canada. According to these industry groups:

  • Eliminating TPLs would disrupt supply chains that have been in place for more than two decades.
  • Eliminating TPLs would not move production back to the U.S. but would instead further incentivize sourcing from outside the NAFTA region and put textile and apparel factories in the region out of business. For example, some apparel factories remain production in the NAFTA region largely because TPL allows them to use third-party textile inputs and the finished goods can still be treated as NAFTA originating.
  • Without the TPL, companies would opt to produce textile and apparel products in the least expensive way possible, likely outside the NAFTA region, and ship items into North America despite being hit with most-favored-nation (MFN) tariffs.
  • A short supply list would not ease the supply chain disruptions that would result from the removal of the TPLs because there is no guarantee products formerly subject to the TPL would make it onto a new NAFTA short supply list.

A potential compromise could involve a reduction in Canadian and Mexican TPLs to the U.S. and an increase in the U.S. TPLs to Mexico and Canada, which could boost the U.S. trade surplus in textiles and apparel with its NAFTA partners and throw a bone to the U.S. textile industry by ostensibly incentivizing domestic production.

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Fact-check about TPL

TPL was included in NAFTA as a compromise for adopting the yarn-forward rules of origin in the agreement. Before NAFTA, the US-Canada trade agreement adopted the less restrictive fabric-forward rules of origin.

The TPL mechanism has played a critical role in facilitating the textile and apparel (T&A) trade and production collaboration between the United States and Canada, in particular, the export of Canada’s wool suits to the United States and the U.S. cotton or man-made fiber apparel to Canada. Statistics from the Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) show that in 2016 more than 70% of the value of Canada’s apparel exports to the United States under NAFTA utilized the TPL provision, including almost all wool apparel products. Over the same period, the TPL fulfillment rate for U.S. cotton or man-made fiber apparel exports to Canada reached 100%, suggesting a high utilization of the TPL mechanism by U.S. apparel firms too (Global Affairs Canada, 2017). Several studies argue that without the TPL mechanism, the U.S.-Canada bilateral T&A trade volume could be in much smaller scale (USITC, 2016). Notably, garments assembled in the United States and Canada often contained non-NAFTA originating textile inputs, which failed them to meet the “yarn-forward” rules of origin typically required for the preferential duty treatment under NAFTA.

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