USITC Economic Assessment Report on USMCA—Textile and Apparel Sector Summary

On April 19, 2019, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) released its independent assessment report on the likely economic impact of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement (USMCA or NAFTA2.0). Below are the key findings of the report:

Impact of USMCA on the U.S. economy

USITC found that because of the size of the U.S. economy relative to the size of the Mexican and Canadian economies and the reduction in tariff and nontariff barriers that has already taken place among the three countries under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the overall impact of USMCA on the U.S. economy is likely to be moderate. For example, USITC’s computable general equilibrium (CGE) model suggests that compared to the base year level in 2017, USMCA could increase the U.S. GDP by 0.35% (or $68.2 billion) and create 0.17 million new jobs when other factors held constant.

Impact of USMCA on the textile and apparel sector

First, USITC found that the USMCA overall is a balanced deal for the textile and apparel sector, particularly regarding the rules of origin (RoO) debate. As USITC noted, USMCA eases the requirements for duty-free treatment for certain textile and apparel products, but tighten the requirements for other products. For example, USMCA eliminates the NAFTA requirements that visible linings must be sourced from members of the agreement; however, USMCA adds more restrictive new requirements for narrow elastic fabrics, sewing thread, and pocket bag fabric.

Second, USITC found that the USMCA changes to the Tariff Preference Level (TPLs) would not have much effect on related trade flows. As USITC noted in its report, where USMCA would cut the TPL level on particular U.S. imports from Canada or Mexico, the quantitative limit for these product categories was not fully utilized in the past.  Meanwhile, the TPL level for product categories typically fully used would remain unchanged under USMCA. The only trade flow that might enjoy a notable increase is the U.S. cotton and man-made fiber (MMF) apparel exports to Canada—the TPL is increased to 20million SME annually under USMCA from 9 million under NAFTA.

Third, USITC suggested that in aggregate, the changes under USMCA for the textile and apparel sector will more or less balance each other out and USMCA would NOT affect the overall utilization of USMCA’s duty-free provisions significantly. Notably, the under-utilization of free trade agreements (FTAs) by U.S. companies in apparel sourcing has been a long-time issue. Data from the Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) shows that of the total $4,292.8 million U.S. apparel imports from the NAFTA region in 2018, only $3,756.1 million (or 87.5%) claimed the preferential duty benefits under the agreement. As noted in the U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study, some U.S. fashion companies do not claim the duty savings largely because of the restrictive RoO and the onerous documentation requirements.

However, interesting enough, the USITC report says little about the potential impact of USMCA on U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing.

Timeline

On 30 September 2018, the United States reached USMCA with Canada and Mexico. On 30 November 2018, USMCA was officially signed by Presidents of the three countries. According to the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (the picture above), after the release of the USITC economic assessment report on USMCA, the Trump Administration will need to work with U.S. Congress to develop legislation to approve and implement the agreement. However, there remains huge uncertainties over USMCA’s prospect.

Related reading:

New CRS Report: Textile and Apparel Sectors Disagree on Certain Provisions of the Proposed U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) Agreement

The study is available HERE

Key findings:

While U.S. textile manufacturers and the apparel and retail industries have expressed overall support for the newly reached US-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement (USMCA or NAFTA2.0), textile producers and the apparel sector still hold divergent views on certain provisions:

Textile “Yarn-Forward” Rule of Origin

USMCA vs. NAFTA1.0: The USMCA will continue to adopt the “yarn-forward” rules of origin. The USMCA will also newly require sewing thread, coated fabric, narrow elastic strips, and pocketing fabric used in apparel and other finished products to be made in a USMCA country to qualify for duty-free access to the United States.

U.S. textile industry: U.S. textile manufacturers almost always support a strict “yarn-forward” rules of origin in U.S free trade agreements and they support eliminating exceptions to the “yarn forward” rule as well. The National Council of Textile Organization (NCTO) estimates that a yearly USMCA market for sewing thread and pocketing fabric of more than $300 million.

U.S. apparel and retail industries: The U.S. apparel industry opposes “yarn forward” and argues that apparel should be considered of North American origin under a more flexible regional “cut and sew” standard, which would provide maximum flexibility for sourcing, including the use of foreign-made yarns and fabrics.

Tariff Preference Levels (TPL) for Textiles and Apparel

USMCA vs. NAFTA1.0: With some adjustments, the USMCA would continue a program that allows duty-free access for limited quantities of wool, cotton, and man-made fiber apparel made with yarn or fabric produced or obtained from outside the NAFTA region, including yarns and fabrics from China and other Asian suppliers.

U.S. textile industry: The textile industry contends China is a major beneficiary of the current NAFTA TPL mechanism, and it strongly pushed for its complete elimination in the USMCA.

U.S. apparel and retail industries: U.S. imports of textiles and apparel covered by the tariff preference level mechanism supply 13% of total U.S. textile and apparel imports from Canada and Mexico. Apparel producers assert that these exceptions give regional producers flexibility to use materials not widely produced in North America.

Viewpoints on other Provisions in USMCA

U.S. textile industry: The U.S. textile industry also opposes the USMCA newly allows visible lining fabric for tailored clothing could be sourced from China or other foreign suppliers, and it would permit up to 10% of a garment’s content, by weight, to come from outside the USMCA region (up from 7% in NAFTA1.0). The U.S. textile industry also welcomes that the USMCA would add specific textile verification and customs procedures aimed at preventing fraud and transshipment. Additionally, the U.S. textile industry is also pleased that the USMCA would end the Kissell Amendment. The Kissell Amendment is an exception in NAFTA that allows manufacturers from Canada and Mexico to qualify as “American” sources when Department of Homeland Security (DHS) buys textiles, clothing, and footwear using appropriated funds (about $30 million markets for textiles, clothing, and shoes altogether).

U.S. apparel and retail industries: Apparel importers are of concern that the USMCA continue to incorporate the existing NAFTA short supply procedure, which is extremely difficult to get a new item approved and added to the list, limiting their flexibility to source apparel with inputs from outside North America.

Finally, the report argues that “Regardless of whether the USMCA takes effect, the global competitiveness of U.S. textile producers and U.S.-headquartered apparel firms may depend more on their ability to compete against Asian producers than on the USMCA trade rules.

Related reading:

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

NAFTA-Article-201708251513

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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