Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiations are taking place this week in Malaysia. Here’s a modest suggestion to help new U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman bring the TPP to a successful conclusion: eliminate the position of Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Textiles, a job that places the welfare of one special interest group above that of the United States.
The federal government currently employs 18 assistant U.S. trade representatives. Most of these jobs have broad descriptions, such as the Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa or the Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Small Business, Market Access, and Industrial Competitiveness.
One exception is the Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Textiles, an industry that accounts for less than one-fifth of one percent of U.S. gross domestic product.
U.S. textile negotiators often take positions diametrically opposed to the interests of U.S. consumers, retailers, exporters, and others. For example, the current U.S. textile negotiator, a former National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) board member, reportedly continues to represent the NCTO’s interests at the TPP negotiating table. That’s bad news for American consumers, who pay billions of dollars extra every year for clothing as a result of U.S. tariffs that protect textile producers. It’s also bad news for U.S. exporters and service providers, since other nations retaliate by denying access to their own markets. Trade reporter Greg Rushford explains:
To the extent that the Americans refuse to open their markets to Vietnamese and Malaysian exporters of apparel and footwear, you can forget meaningful reforms of Vietnamese and Malaysian state-owned enterprises. By adopting the backwards-looking NCTO positions as their own, the White House is risking wiping out billions and billions of dollars of export opportunities to the big-ticket, globally competitive U.S. providers of goods and services.
While the relatively small textile industry gets its own trade negotiator, there’s no Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for 314 Million American Consumers.
The U.S. Trade Representative’s negotiating position at TPP trade talks should not be “Everyday High Prices” for Americans. Froman should eliminate the position of Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Textiles.