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  • Jennifer Marks
  • Thomas Russell

You Keep on Knockin' …

You'd think that with the value of the dollar at an all-time low against the euro, export-minded U.S. home textiles manufacturers would be living on easy street.

But it ain't necessarily so.

A group of U.S. home textiles companies exhibiting at Heimtextil last week told officials from the U.S. Commerce Department during a roundtable breakfast that the dollar is the least of it.

It seems European Union member states have not done much to harmonize their safety regulations for textiles, leaving would-be exporters from the U.S. to face a hodge-podge of standards in various countries. Worse, many countries will not accept in-house safety testing results, apparently as a prop to their indigenous testing labs. Complicating matters further, there is no agreement under which testing labs in one country recognize as valid the findings of labs in others.

The new year may have ushered in free access to the U.S. market for World Trade Organization members, but according to several U.S. firms at the Commerce-hosted breakfast, the access isn't exactly reciprocal.

Exhibitors also complained of trade barriers elsewhere. One spoke of attempting to do business in Asia only to be hit with a 30 percent tariff topped off with a 10 percent VAT fee. Another spoke of an American colleague whose product was rejected in Japan for failing to meet testing standards. However, when that same company sold its yarn to a Japanese manufacturer that reproduced the original product to the same specifications, it cleared the bar. Even China, according to one exporter, has begun wielding the safety-standard cudgel to block foreign-made textiles.

In response, Commerce officials outlined the breadth of their resources available for combatting such dilemmas and encouraged manufacturers to alert them. But they also noted that other industries have managed to push trade reforms through their associations. And alas, as both Commerce officials and U.S. Heimtextil exhibitors acknowledge, the U.S. home textiles industry has no real lobbying association — and does a generally pitiful job of supporting the small, non-lobbying association that it has.

Many will shrug off the trade issue entirely. The prevailing attitude in the New York showrooms along Fifth and Sixths Avenues has largely been one of “Exports? We don't need no stinking exports.”

It might be time to look around and start reevaluating that notion. Non-U.S. companies exhibiting at Heimtextil generally look at the world as a collection of potential markets, a portfolio they can shuffle according to market conditions. As difficult as the barriers to entry may be for U.S. firms, it behoves them to keep pushing on the door.

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