Industry praises trade preference extensions
Numerous industry groups on Monday praised the U.S. House of Representatives for its approval to extend two duty-free import programs for another year.
The House extended the General System of Preferences (GSP), a program that provides preferential access to the U.S. market for more than 5,000 products from about 130 developing countries, and the Andean Trade Preferences Act (ATPA), a program which grants preferential trade benefits to Colombia, Peru and Ecuador and serves as a centerpiece of U.S. anti-narcotics policy in the region. Both programs were due to expire on Dec. 31.
'These programs provide a number of developing countries with duty-free access to the U.S. market, help ensure stability to both U.S. and recipient country enterprises, and ease the flow of commerce,' said Chuck Dittrich, vice president for regional trade initiatives at the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC). 'This extension allows Congress to take up a comprehensive review and reform of U.S. trade preference programs in the new year.'
Trade groups warned that allowing GSP and ATPA to lapse with the aim of renewing them retroactively at a later date causes serious disruptions to U.S. shippers.
The National Cotton Council, for example, noted that the ATPA region has emerged as an important market for U.S. cotton and cotton products. Imports of apparel products from the Andean region that enter the United States duty-free under the program use U.S. grown and manufactured cotton, yarns and fabrics. In 2008, U.S. raw cotton exports to the region totaled about $150 million and U.S. yard and fabric exports to the region totaled $160 million.
'However, faced with the uncertainty of continued trade benefits, some apparel production has recently shifted out of the Andean countries, depriving the region of much-needed jobs and U.S. cotton growers and U.S. textile manufacturers and their employees of valued customers for their products,' the National Cotton Council said.
'I now urge the U.S. Senate to vote on (the GSP and ATPA) extensions so that President Obama can sign them before those in U.S. apparel and footwear industry who source in these covered regions experience any further business disruption,' said Kevin M. Burke, president and chief executive officer for the American Apparel & Footwear Association. 'Disruptions at this delicate juncture will only erode the recovery our industry has started to make since the recession began.'
'It is our hope that the U.S. trade agenda will be front and center in 2010, and that in addition to preference reform, Congress will approve the three pending free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, to help level the playing field for U.S. exporters,' added NFTC President Bill Reinsch.
Also on Monday, the NFTC and USA*Engage applauded Congress for including in the fiscal year 2010 omnibus spending bill provisions to ease restrictions on U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba. The spending bill was approved by the Senate and is expected to be signed by President Obama in the coming days.
'The agriculture provision will make it easier for American farmers and other agricultural exporters to sell their goods to Cuba,' said Jake Colvin, NFTC's vice president for global trade policy, in a statement. 'This is a small but welcome step in the right direction, and it is great to see that fixing Cuba policy remains on the radar screen for Congress.'