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Bills Introduced In Congress Aim To Benefit U.S. Textile/Apparel Industry

Within the last week, three bills have been introduced in the U.S. Congress that aim to bolster the U.S. textile and apparel industry.

The American Textile Technology Innovation and Research for Exportation (ATTIRE) Act, a bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Reps. David Price, D-N.C., and Howard Coble, R-N.C., would create a $5 million competitive grant program at the Department of Commerce to fund textile research and innovation and boost textile exports. Eligible recipients would include colleges and universities as well as not-for-profit research institutes that are involved in high-tech textile research and development projects.

"The textile industry contributes $60 billion to our national economy every year, and it employs over 500,000 workers across the country," said Rep. Price. "The ATTIRE Act will help keep these jobs here, ensuring this critical domestic industry out-innovates its international competitors by funding research into the next generation of textile and fiber technologies."

Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition (AMTAC), endorsed the bill, saying, "Staying at the forefront of research and development is the lifeblood for maintaining the competitiveness of the U.S. textile industry. ... Federal research funding for textiles has been the seed corn contributing to the innovation of products and manufacturing processes that not only have put tens of thousands of Americans to work, but have improved our country's overall quality of life."

DOD Textile and Apparel Procurement Fairness Act
The Department of Defense (DOD) Textile and Apparel Procurement Fairness Act, introduced in the House by Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., and Larry Kissell, D-N.C., would limit DOD apparel and textile-based military equipment purchases from Federal Prison Industries Inc. (FPI) to 5 percent of market share of any product.

FPI was created in 1934 by executive order as a self-sustaining, self-funded enterprise to offer job skills training to federal prisoners through a voluntary work program. The clothing and textiles sector is one among a range of industrial sectors in which the program is active.

The bill has received strong support from the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), Arlington, Va., which says the 5-percent limit on FPI contracts would lead to an increase in the amount of business that would go to U.S. textile and apparel manufacturers in the private sector.

"Swift passage of the DOD Textile and Apparel Procurement Fairness Act will create opportunities for job creation within the U.S. textile and apparel industry," said AAFA President and CEO Kevin M. Burke. "As we explore every option to create and sustain jobs in the United States, our government should not put the employment of federal inmates over the employment of hardworking taxpayers."

According to AAFA, of the more than $2 billion spent by the DOD in 2010 to procure military uniforms, camouflage, training gear and combat footwear, nearly $140 million was paid to FPI, which employed inmates in 24 federal prisons to manufacture the apparel and equipment. AAFA estimates the 5-percent limit on FPI contracts would add more than $40 million to revenues in the private sector. The association also charges that the preferences enjoyed by FPI - which last year brought the program $36 million in profits just for textiles and apparel - have resulted in layoffs and plant closures in the private sector, and have even superceded preferences afforded to businesses that employ blind or disabled workers.

In the Senate, the Save Our Industries Act of 2011 (SAVE Act) was introduced by Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and co-sponsored by Sens. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Harry Reid, D-Nev. The act aims to expand textile and apparel trade between the United States and the Philippines through the elimination of certain duties on apparel products that are made in the Philippines using U.S. fabric. The SAVE Act — the first legislation introduced to enhance U.S.-Philippines trade since 1974 — also has received support from AAFA, which notes the act also offers strong customs enforcement provisions to protect against "abusive transshipment practices."

"This win-win trade legislation provides clear and unmistakable benefits for workers in the United States and the Philippines," Burke said, noting that the elimination of duties provides the Philippines with "a meaningful opportunity to grow its apparel industry" while the act also supports the U.S. textile industry.

June 28, 2011