Tariff code changes could lead to eliminating import duties

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Changes to the U.S. tariff code open the door for eliminating duties on some outdoor apparel.

Photo via BruceTurner on Flicker

Photo via BruceTurner on Flickr

New tariff codes went into effect last week for recreational performance outerwear, distinguishing them from other articles of clothing for the first time. The new categorization opens the door to eliminate hefty import taxes on products like ski and snowboard pants, windbreakers and other water resistant apparel.

Performance wear tariffs currently average around 14 percent, and top out at 28 percent, said Rich Harper, Outdoor Industry Association’s manager of international trade.

“This is a huge step forward,” he said Friday. He added that there is virtually no opposition to eliminating tariffs on performance wear, which does not have “meaningful” production within the United States.

The new classifications define “recreational performance outerwear” in part by the features that make it rugged enough to endure the elements. To meet the definition, products must include at least five attributes from a list including insulation from the cold, pockets (at least one of which has some kind of closure), articulated elbows or knees, an adjustable powder skirt and odor control technology.

“These products are not produced domestically,” Harper said, “so those import duties should be eliminated. It would help [OIA] members lower costs, innovate, and develop new fabrics.”

OIA is advocating for the U.S. OUTDOOR Act, legislation that would eliminate those tariffs. The bill will likely be introduced in September with bipartisan support.

That’s just the tip of the tariff iceberg, though – the Trans Pacific Partnership, more commonly known as the TPP, would reduce or eliminate tariffs on many other kinds of outdoor goods, like footwear, backpacks and other apparel.

Critics say that those cheaper goods would come at the cost of American jobs, and that the trade agreement would harm the environment. OIA has been focused on the benefit to the outdoor industry, saying that what’s good for the brands is good for consumers, too. Lower import costs could lead to both greater innovation and cheaper products, ultimately helping more people to get outdoors.

President Barack Obama has also supported the TPP, and Harper says it’s likely to pass in a lame duck session of Congress after the November election. Trade policies will be a huge part of his legacy as president, he said.

“I think he [Obama] recognizes the impact outdoor recreation has,” Harper said. “I think he and his family are outdoor enthusiasts, so he enjoys being outdoors and you can see that.”

People in the industry who want to see either the U.S. OUTDOOR Act or the TPP succeed should contact their senators and representatives to show support, and they should invite them to visit their facilities in their home districts while they’re at it. Those invitations, while seemingly simple, go a long way to showing Congress what’s important to this $646 billion industry.

“You need to have a seat at the table,” Harper said. Hundreds of people from the industry went to Washington D.C. in April to lobby elected officials on behalf of OIA, the Conservation Alliance and the Outdoor Alliance. Turnout for OIA’s event, Capitol Summit, has been growing. “It makes a difference. It has an impact. … I love it when our members come out to Washington, but it’s also important to develop that relationship back home. We want to make sure that voice is heard.”

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