As the domestic textiles industry continues to wage its seemingly endless battles over imports, grappling with such tinderbox issues as tariffs, free trade and foreign dumping, it should not be forgotten that the United States remains a major player in exporting textiles as well.
Latest data from the U.S. Office of Textiles and Apparel, a unit of the Commerce Department, show that U.S. exports of non-apparel textiles in 2007 amounted to less than $12.3 billion, or slightly more than half of the $22.5 billion imported by the United States that year. (Apparel exports, however, remain a tiny fraction of imports.)
While the non-apparel data clearly put to rest the popular notion that the domestic textiles industry is on its last legs, a closer look at the figures reveals that last year’s exports actually declined significantly from the year before. In fact, the rate of growth of domestic sales abroad has been slowing since 2005.
To many American manufacturers, the factors underlying this development are clear: unfair policies of foreign governments. “Unfortunately, U.S. exporters oftentimes confront tariff levels eight to 10 times higher than U.S. duty rates when trying to access key overseas markets,” said H.E. Don Stephenson, in his capacity as chairman of a negotiating group of American textiles manufacturers, at the World Trade Organization’s Doha Development Round in 2006. “Though many of these nations still claim ‘developing country’ status under the WTO, they maintain sophisticated textile and apparel sectors with massive production and export capacity.” — Nathan Weber