Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Suited up for an agenda

Business Mirror

ONE of the most interesting stories that Filipino first-timers to the United States like to share is going shopping, especially in those outlets in the suburbs where the best brands may be bought at bargain prices, and picking out clothes with the pride of someone eagerly anticipating being seen in them.

On one such trip, one journalist once recalled a first-time sojourn to Secaucus outlet in New Jersey and picking out several stylish Geoffrey Beene shirts, and then being taken aback, but pleasantly surprised, by the label: “Tailored in the Philippines.”

Of course, the reactions to such tags may vary depending on the mindset of the shopper. Some tourists get disappointed looking for something indigenous to a place, say, Australia, and finding 8 out of 10 souvenir items being made in China. That’s globalization for you. But back to the Geoffrey Beene shirts. As many Filipino tourists and shoppers have discovered through the years, a good chunk of the branded items, especially clothes, that they’d dreamt of buying in America were fashioned or crafted by their countrymen’s hands. Not surprising, considering the presence of so many export-processing zones here.

Now, with the recent elevation to the US Congress of the proposed Save Our Industries (SAVE) Act, labor leader and former senator Ernesto Herrera sees great economic opportunity in the sense that the bill enables the freer entry of Philippine-made garments into the highly lucrative US market.

“We are counting on the next Philippine president to move fast so that the US bill may hopefully be enacted before the November midterm elections there,” said Herrera, secretary-general of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, in a statement at the weekend.

While the bill is envisioned to “save” ailing American textile producers, it would also benefit the Philippines’ labor-intensive garments industry in a big way, according to Herrera, former chairman of the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human-Resources Development.

He said the bill will “allow Philippine-made garments to enter the US market with considerably fewer restrictions, as long as the clothes use American textiles,” Herrera said.

He said ready to wear (RTW) clothes made in the Philippines using American textiles would enjoy definite advantages such as lower duties, thus making them even more price-competitive when they reach US stores.

“This will surely encourage more apparel makers from the US to build new factories here, bring in American textiles, harness skilled Filipino workers to design, cut and sew the garments, and then re-export the RTW clothes back to the US,” Herrera said. This is a throwback to the 1990s, when many such US firms were tapping factories in the Philippines to fashion the garments sold in US stores, including, yes, the Geoffrey Beene line then.

Per Herrera’s estimates, the local garments industry, now employing some 150,000 Filipinos, could easily add 100,000 new jobs once the US bill is enacted. He noted that local contract manufacturers for American apparel makers would also benefit, Herrera said.

“The Philippines already has a solid reputation when it comes to the manufacture of garments meant for American stores, particularly the high-end ones,” according to Herrera.

Such great economic potential, though, could be lost if the next administration after May 10 fumbles and fails to lobby the US Congress for the SAVE bill. Here’s one more vital addition to the proposed agenda of the new president, whoever he may be. With no pun intended for those great Filipino tailors of global brands, it seems this next president has his work cut out for him on this issue, at least.

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