[Part One of a Two-Part Series]
Last month I flew to Bangkok, Saigon and Hong Kong to try to get a better understanding of why something called “yarn forward” has been blocking progress in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations. The TPP talks presently involve the United States and eight other countries including Singapore, New Zealand and Australia — soon to be a group of eleven nations, with the addition of Canada and Mexico — in the fastest-grown region in the world.
For sure, the term “yarn forward” would not mean much to regular folks. But to a handful of diplomatic insiders and trade junkies who immerse themselves in the arcane jargon of international-trade politics, yarn forward is anything but an obscure phrase. It turns upon America’s reluctance to give Vietnam, and to a lesser extent, Malaysia, enhanced access to U.S. clothing markets — unless the Asians agree to disrupt their current global supply chains to make their clothing from U.S. materials.
The fight over yarn forward rules of origin for textiles and apparel is widely considered to be one of the key reasons that the TPP negotiations, despite a lot of hoopla, have essentially made very little progress since March, 2010. That’s marks the date when American trade negotiators put the concept front-and-center of Washington’s TPP agenda during the TPP’s first round of negotiations, which were held in Melbourne. This Friday, the TPP’s 14th round will conclude in Leesburg, Virginia, The Sept. 6 – 15, 2012 Leesburg meetings, like the others, have been shrouded in near-total secrecy. Once again, about all that outsiders see is the usual diplomatic happy talk about all the “important” meetings that have been held by a lot of important, busy officials, and about all the encouraging “progress” that is being made.