U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai made her first trip as the nation’s top trade chief to the Southeast in a one-day visit to two U.S. textile companies where she had a first-hand look at state-of-the-art facilities and met with industry executives.
Ambassador Tai visited Milliken & Company’s Magnolia plant in Blacksburg, S.C. and American & Efird’s plant in Mount Holly, N.C. and gained insight into the opportunities and challenges that exist for the industry.
The Ambassador participated in a Women in Textiles roundtable at Milliken and in a separate Industry Executive roundtable at A&E on September 23.
Industry leaders discussed a wide range of critical topics, ranging from the competitiveness and sustainability of the domestic industry to priority issues in Washington, the critical Western Hemisphere co-production chain, PPE, and Berry Amendment and Buy American policies.
At Milliken & Company, Ambassador Tai said in a short interview with a broadcast station, “I am so impressed by what they are making here, how they are making it under an environmental sustainability program here. I think what I’ve been most impressed by is the pride that folks here have in what they are making.
“I got to model one of the U.S. Olympic jackets just now and putting that on reminds me of the kind of pride that we feel once every four years watching the Olympics. We should feel [that kind of pride] in a company like Milliken every single day.”
Later, at an industry executive roundtable hosted by A&E, Ambassador Tai took note of North Carolina’s $2 billion in textile exports—making it the number one textile-exporting state.
“I understand the A&E Mount Holly plant exports products to 57 different countries,” she said. “As U.S. Trade Representative I am committed to helping A&E and all of your companies build on this success by finding more market opportunities…”
The Ambassador also noted that both the Milliken and A&E plants export a significant portion of their production to such U.S. trading partners as Mexico, Canada and Central America.
“The production linkage with Central America is especially important as the Biden-Harris administration works with our partners in the region to increase economic opportunity in the Northern Triangle counties of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras,” she said in opening remarks at the roundtable, noting she was eager to hear from the group of industry leaders at the roundtable about suggestions to further strengthen the co-production chain.
She also gave special recognition to the industry for making “great strides and commitments” in implementing sustainable practices and commended the entire industry for its “heroic” role in answering the call of the nation at the height of the pandemic to ramp up production of personal protective equipment (PPE).
“…Many of you in this room stepped up courageously and reconfigured your production lines to make protective equipment that was in high demand and in short supply. This quick turnaround was nothing short of heroic. And I want to personally thank you for the lives you saved and the people you protected. We do not want to be caught in the same situation twice,” she noted, adding that the Biden administration is committed to learning lessons and determining how it can be more prepared in the future.
In a separate interview with a broadcast station, Ambassador Tai also weighed in on where she sees the future of the industry moving, after hearing from women textile leaders about the significant enrollment of women at North Carolina State University’s Wilson College of Textiles.
“The women that I talked to today talked about the opportunities that they got and wanting to create more opportunities for women and a more diverse workforce. Folks here really believe that the future of this industry is female.”