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Apparel Association Submits Its Blueprint For Export Expansion

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

The American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) has written to the U.S. Department of Commerce outlining a 10-step plan to help the Obama administration reach its goal of doubling exports over the next five years. The plan was submitted to Commerce in response to its requests for comments on its National Export Initiative.

The association says that at the present time, only a small percentage of its members export, and those that do are mainly the larger companies. The report says: "Regrettably despite the fact that apparel and footwear manufacturers are producing some of the most technologically advanced apparel and footwear in the world, the predominant exports tend to come from the largest suppliers who ship fabrics overseas for the commercial market and not the end-item consumer products."

The report, based on a survey of domestic manufacturers, does say the manufacturers benefit significantly from the U.S. military's requirement to source domestically for military uniforms, footwear and other textile-based equipment. Companies that make these products, however, are often small and medium-sized businesses that have little or no commercial business due to the specialization of their products.

AAFA says its members for the most part do not utilize any U.S. government assistance, "nor were they even aware that any U.S. government assistance has been available."

In order to help turn the situation around and expand exports, AAFA outlined these 10 steps that it says can help achieve the Export Initiative goals:

  • Small and medium-sized domestic manufacturers must be able to get easier access to credit, which AAFA says is "the lifeblood of their business."
  • Congress needs to approve the already negotiated free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.
  • With 95 percent of the world's consumers outside the United States, this country needs to open as many markets as possible by participating in initiatives such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
  • As times change, the United States must ensure that its current trade agreements meet current technological developments, intellectual property protection and new market-opening opportunities.
  • There must be a "successful and ambitious" conclusion of the Doha Round of trade liberalization negotiations.
  • Everyone must adhere to a rules-based international trading system.
  • Just as the United States expects its trading partners to live up to the rules, it must do the same thing.
  • U.S. exports are not just products made domestically. U.S. manufacturers must make their branded products everywhere and sell them everywhere. These products support U.S. design, marketing and selling jobs in U.S. companies and bring earnings home.
  • If U.S. manufacturers do not appreciate and support the role that imports play in an export-driven world economy, they lose their comparative advantages. If the United States refuses to buy from others, they will refuse to buy from the United States.
  • Setting U.S. sights on doubling exports is great. But thinking and acting within the parameters of simply doubling exports limits the possibility of quadrupling U.S. exports.
As the report went forward, AAFA President and CEO Kevin Burke said: "As an industry that makes everywhere and sells everywhere, the U.S. apparel and footwear industry stands behind the NEI's goals. To achieve these goals, the Obama Administration and Congress must work in concert with stakeholders and the public to leverage and maximize every opportunity for growth."

He added: "We cannot afford to leave any option off the table. Whether improving access to export financing, continuing to open new markets, improving existing trade agreements or even facilitating imports, every component is critical to realizing the final goal."