From the Heartland of Our Nation’s Fabric

WASHINGTON – USTR Senior Advisors Beth Baltzan and Jamila Thompson today released a blog post reflecting on their recent visit to American textile manufacturers in the Carolinas. In the piece, Baltzan and Thompson highlight the important and innovative producers in the domestic supply chain as well as the Biden Administration’s effort to craft smarter trade policy that creates a level playing field while also enhancing the resilience of critical American industries. 

The full blog post is below.

The heartbeat of America’s domestic supply chain for apparel manufacturing runs through the Carolinas. That why we visited clothing manufacturer American Giant and the domestic companies that form its supply chain. We also visited Carolina textile producers Milliken & Company and Unifi.

The trip highlighted the close relationship between regional agricultural producers and manufacturers – in this case, cotton growers who send their product to neighboring cotton gins, who send their products to nearby yarn producers, who send their yarn to local knitters, who send their fabric to regional dyers, who send their dyed fabric up the road where it is cut and sewn into “Made in America” apparel.  There was pride and intentionality in tracing seed to sweatshirt – or, as they say in the industry, “dirt to shirt.” 

As President Biden has often said, American workers can out-compete anyone, but they need a government that fights for them. That is why every discussion we held centered on inclusive trade policy that supports American workers, farmers, and entrepreneurs.  Many with whom we met noted that given a fair-trading system they would be able to compete anywhere.

We also saw first-hand the commitment these companies have to sustainable production. We heard time and again that customers and investors are demanding it. From small, family-owned businesses, to larger, privately held firms, to publicly-traded companies, we witnessed responsiveness to the changing demands of the marketplace. 

Innovation is also a core element of these companies’ comparative advantage. Some of the equipment is state-of-the-art; many of the goods are made using patented technologies or trade secrets. 

These innovative technologies also support our military, with yarns and fabrics that help keep our troops and first responders safe. Unions create demand for Made in the USA products, which has a multiplier effect that supports businesses that are not themselves unionized. These various aspects of demand – the value of the Made in the USA label, military applications, and labor union preferences –contribute to an environment that allows these companies to stay in the fight in a sector that all too often confronts unfair competition. 

We heard about the challenges these workers and businesses face when their competitors are not held to the same standards – whether labor standards, environmental standards, or even the basic need to be run profitably. These companies want to make goods in the United States. But the playing field needs to be level, and the competition can’t be based on price undercutting grounded in exploitation of people or the planet.

Some of these companies believe that trade agreements with the right rules can help. For example, the supply chain rules in our trade agreement with Central America and the Dominican Republic (“CAFTA-DR”) – the “yarn forward” rule – incentivize the use of American-made yarns, which can be further processed in CAFTA-DR region. On the whole, this dynamic can increase demand for American yarns, which might otherwise be sourced from countries like the People’s Republic of China.

Most striking, though, was the relationship these companies have with their people, whether their employees or the broader community.  They showed us their commitment to their workers’ well-being, and these facilities were integral parts of their tightly knit communities.  And there is a positive ripple effect – a single job in one of these facilities can support three or more jobs in the area.

Gender was also a consistent theme of the discussions, especially in the cut and sew industry, where there is a significant number of women workers.  Managers shared the importance of securing worker buy-in for purchasing and developing new technologies, processes, and incentives to improve production and considering meaningful support for working mothers. 

Whether it’s stepping up to make and deliver personal protective equipment for our frontline workers during the pandemic when global supply chains broke down, or anchoring our communities with good-paying jobs – the people we met in the Carolinas epitomize the resilience and innovation that lies at the heart of the American spirit.  

President Biden and Ambassador Tai are committed to honoring their strength and determination by creating smarter trade policy that creates a fair playing field for our producers to compete in today’s global economy while also enhancing the resilience of critical American industries.