Beth Hughes, AAFA Vice President, Trade and Customs Policy

Beth Hughes, AAFA Vice President, Trade and Customs Policy Moshe Zusman


April Showers Bring May Flowers

When it rains it pours. We’ve seen a torrent of trade legislation introduced in Congress this spring.

As we celebrate World Trade Month, we welcome key trade policies being introduced by lawmakers.

Let’s take a trip around the globe, starting in the United States.

A quick refresher: The apparel and footwear sectors face higher tariffs than most other industries, meaning the clothes and shoes you buy for yourself and your family cost more because of this hidden, regressive tax. Believe it or not, in many cases shoes and clothing designated for women cost even more because of tariff policy that is gender-coded! We know that trade benefits American consumers, workers and families, but the current U.S. tariff policy works against them by raising prices on everyday goods.

Just last month, representatives Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas) and Brittany Pettersen (D-Colo.) introduced the Pink Tariffs Study Act. This bill examines how the U.S. tariff system creates a gender bias, and we trust it will be eye-opening for their fellow legislators.

In our backyard, Haiti has become an increasingly difficult place to do business due to the recent resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry and a surge in gang violence. Apparel production in Haiti creates more than 50,000 Haitian jobs and supports tens of thousands more Haitians and the communities in which they live. But the apparel jobs, and the communities they support, are now at risk because the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement (HOPE) and the Haiti Economic Lift Program (HELP) acts, commonly known as HOPE/HELP, are set to expire next year. There is no question that Haiti is at a critical juncture. Congress has a great opportunity now to provide much-needed stability to the Haitian people and certainty to U.S. companies producing in Haiti by passing legislation for the long-term renewal of the HOPE/HELP programs.

Let’s head across the Atlantic to the African continent. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) introduced legislation to extend the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) for another 16 years. Currently set to expire in September 2025, AGOA is a pivotal trade-preference program that provides duty-free access to the U.S. market, fostering economic growth and opportunity between the U.S. and eligible sub-Saharan African countries. U.S. apparel brands and retailers rely on AGOA to diversify their supply chains for apparel and footwear. As we fast approach AGOA’s expiration date, we are hopeful that the AGOA Renewal and Improvement Act of 2024 will pass and be signed into law.

Let’s move right along to the Indo-Pacific, where two key bills have been introduced. The first, the U.S. Trade Leadership in the Indo-Pacific Act, led by Representative Carol Miller (R-W.V.) is an effort to reengage with our allies in the Indo-Pacific on trade by studying and recommending a strategy Congress can take to lead in the region. Two regional trade agreements—the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)—are currently forging the way in the region without the United States. We’re left out of key markets because we aren’t negotiating meaningful and comprehensive trade agreements in the region. When we’re left out, prices for American families rise, and job opportunities for American workers are lost.

The other bill that is long overdue is the Generalized System Preferences (GSP) Reform Act. GSP is designed to support economic development in select developing countries by removing tariff barriers on qualifying products like travel goods while supporting worker rights, intellectual-property protection and the rule of law in these beneficiary countries. GSP has always had bipartisan support. But GSP’s three-year lapse has been unexplainable and damaging to American businesses, American workers and beneficiary countries alike. Once renewed, GSP can have a very real impact on the cost and offering of everyday goods such as backpacks for schoolchildren.

Bottom line: U.S. policy that increases trade and reduces tariffs with our allies will help lower costs we’re seeing due to inflation and provide new opportunities for American businesses and American workers.

Congress has a key role to play in trade policy, and it’s a relief to finally see these four bills come out. Lawmakers must now see them through to the President’s desk. The U.S. presidential election is around the corner. Campaign season will effectively halt legislating, so time is of the essence.

Here’s hoping that April showers really do bring May flowers—and passage of these much-needed trade bills. And let’s not place extra tariffs on anything because of pink, floral or lace.

Beth Hughes is vice president, trade and customs policy, at the American Apparel & Footwear Association, where she oversees AAFA’s Trade Policy Committee and AAFA’s Customs Group. She is also chief spokesperson for the Coalition for Economic Partnership in the Americas (CEPA) launched in November 2021. Follow on LinkedIn & @BeffRae