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NRF urges Congress to resist political pressure from textile industry
Jun '09
The National Retail Federation urged Congress to resist political pressure from the textile industry, saying calls to stop alleged “cheating” on apparel import duties could lead to “overzealous enforcement” that would penalize legitimate importers and have an adverse impact on small retailers in particular.

“Retailers take their customs compliance responsibilities very seriously,” NRF Vice President and International Trade Counsel Erik Autor said. “However, we are concerned that pressure from the textile industry may lead to overzealous enforcement with little control or oversight that will have several adverse consequences.”

“If CBP is constantly forced to leave no stone unturned, the result will be harassment and disruption of shipments that are compliant and low-risk that will become a barrier to legitimate trade,” Autor said. “At a time when many retailers are struggling to stay in business and are facing increasingly burdensome compliance requirements on labor, environment, supply chain security and product safety, an overly heavy hand by CBP that only disrupts legitimate textile and apparel trade while adding little to improve enforcement is unwise policy.”

“Small retailers typically do not sell their own brand of merchandise,” Autor said. “They procure their goods through a purchasing agent or wholesaler, and are dependent on these entities for ensuring that the goods comply with customs laws and regulations. If problems arise, the consequences are that the goods they ordered may be seized and even forfeited through no fault of their own but with serious adverse consequences to their business.”

Autor testified on behalf of the retail industry during a hearing held (June 18) by the House Small Business Committee's trade subcommittee on whether U.S. Customs and Border Protection is adequately enforcing trade laws affecting textile and apparel imports.

Autor said one-third of all import specialists and many line agents at CBP are already devoted exclusively to textile and apparel, and that the agency regularly sends “jump teams” to foreign countries to seek out violations and moves aggressively to detain merchandise “at the slightest suspicion” of a problem. Apparel retailers, meanwhile, have the highest customs compliance rates of any importing industry. Nonetheless, the textile industry has demanded that the CBP do more “to stop the 'cheating,' ” Autor said.

Forcing CBP to devote more resources to apparel would impact other critical responsibilities such as cargo security and drug interdiction, Autor said. Instead, CBP must be allowed to “work smarter and better” by adopting a risk-based enforcement system that would work cooperatively with importers and focus attention on targeting high-risk imports and facilitating the movement of legitimate goods, he said. CBP should continue to focus on post-entry enforcement with the posting of bonds, remote entry filing, paperless release of cargo and post-entry compliance audits.

Autor said imports account for more than 90 percent of all clothing sold in the United States, and that apparel is subject to “some of the most stringent trade barriers applied to any manufactured product imported into the United States.” While apparel from some countries can be imported duty-free, most apparel imports – including those from China and most Asian countries – are subject to duties that average 16 percent. That compares with 2 percent average duty for all imported products.

National Retail Federation

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