Williamson Named AAFA Chairman at Annual Summit

Philip C. Williamson, chairman, president and CEO of Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing Co., was named chairman of the board of directors of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) at the association's Annual Executive Summit, held in mid-March in Washington, DC. He succeeds Rick Darling, vice chairman of LF USA & LF Europe.

"As a fourth-generation business leader in the U.S. apparel and footwear industry, I have seen first-hand how this industry positively responds to great challenges," said Williamson. "I look forward to serving as chairman as we work to amplify AAFA's voice in Washington in pursuit of our ambitious legislative agenda for 2013."

Rick Helfenbein, president of TellaS, Ltd., Luen Thai, USA, will serve as vice chairman; Rob DeMartini, president and CEO, New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc., will serve as treasurer; and Paula Zusi, executive vice president and chief supply chain officer of Ann Inc., will serve as secretary.

At the summit's opening, AAFA president and CEO Kevin M. Burke, said: "As a serious business leader, you face daily obstacles that threaten the overall success of your company and your workers. Unfortunately, Washington is not making it easier for you. Continued political and economic uncertainty loom over the marketplace. Making smart, long-term strategic decisions is difficult if not impossible.

Whether experiencing government budget cuts because of sequestration, holding capital instead of investing while the debt ceiling is raised, or enforcing contingency plans because of widespread port strikes, the level of uncertainly has deeply penetrated our business processes."

Burke called on Washington leaders to put more energy into compromise and collaboration vs. gridlock and infighting. "The stakes could not be higher. With more than four million U.S. workers, our industry's ability to freely compete both at home and in the global market positively contributes to the health of the U.S. and global economy. Congress and the Obama Administration must foster this environment with both words and action."

One of AAFA's primary goal is to "seek legislation that opens new markets to increased trade in a way that understands the industry's 21st century business model, aggressively protecting U.S. brands' intellectual property, reducing regulatory burdens that do not promote competitiveness, and seeking opportunities to strengthen the Berry Amendment for domestic manufacturers who outfit U.S. servicemen and women," said Burke.

Regarding government procurement, Burk said the AAFA will continue to seek the strongest protections for the Berry Amendment, the provision that requires the Department of Defense to give preference in procurement to domestically produced fabrics and apparel. And he criticized the U.S. government for its practice of awarding contracts to federal inmates. "As a result of this practice, the federal government has put several companies out of business just as it is urging a ‘Made in America' agenda. The irony is not lost on us or our domestic manufacturing members seeking opportunities for growth."

On the topic of made in America, Burke noted that in 2011, U.S. domestic apparel and footwear manufacturing increased 7.9 percent and 11.1 percent respectively, with higher increases expected from 2012 statistics. One of its efforts to support this growth is a partnership with Tradegood, a web-based sourcing platform that connects buyers and suppliers.

Burke also identified compliance and corporate social responsibility as important priorities. "The U.S. apparel and footwear industry maintains the highest commitment to ensuring all workers in the global apparel and footwear industry are treated with fairness and respect. Recent events in our global supply chain have once again opened our eyes to the serious challenges we must continue to overcome. Because we can always do better, our social responsibility work will never be done."

Earlier this year, AAFA released three new resources designed to assist U.S. apparel and footwear companies as they navigate mounting social responsibility reporting requirements and other important social responsibility concerns within the global apparel and footwear industry supply chain, including resources that will assist in fire prevention, supply chain transparency and conflict mineral reporting.

Finally, in addressing international trade, Burke said, "International commerce has proven itself to be the new foreign policy model that will guide us toward the 22nd century."

With 98 percent of the clothes and 99 percent of the shoes sold in the United States in 2012 produced globally, Burke said there are not enough trade opening opportunities. Negotiations are still on-going for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would create an 11-nation trade bloc. "While some of these major differences exist between negotiating partners, we find that the most varying viewpoints exist between the U.S. apparel and footwear industry and the U.S. government over the flexible rules of origin required by our 21st century global supply chain."

Burke also expressed the need for Trade Promotion Authority. "Since 1974, presidents have used Trade Promotion Authority, or fast track authority, to negotiate trade agreements on behalf of the United States. Once finalized, the agreements are sent to Congress for a simple up or down vote without fear of being amended once submitted. This helps strengthen the United States' negotiating position by requiring the administration to negotiate in close consultation with Congress. In the end, TPA creates better and more balanced trade policy."

But because TPA expired in 2007, "the Obama Administration has been without full-faith authority for its entire duration. U.S. trade policy has suffered as a result. While we would rather see increased market openings around the world, restoring TPA may be the simplest but greatest trade opening initiative since the United States joined the TPP talks in 2008."

Burke also noted that because the general public tends not to accept the positive impact that both imports and exports have on the U.S. economy, trade conversations on Capitol Hill are made more difficult.

"The U.S. apparel and footwear industry is well-positioned to serve as the shining example of an industry that is able to thrive because of imports. Although nearly all of our product is sourced globally, our industry continues to sustain four million U.S. jobs. What's more, domestically-made product for the commercial market likely contains at least one imported component."

One step AAFA has taken, along with a broad cross-section of organizations in the business community, is the creation of "Imports Work for America Week," a week in May as part of World Trade Month dedicated to the raising awareness about the value of imports.

There is some shift in opinion. For example, a 2012 Gallup poll found that 46 percent of Americans viewed imports as a threat to U.S. economic security; in 2013, that number dropped to 35 percent.

To learn more about the AAFA's initiatives visit wewear.org.

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