Capitol Comments

Roll Goods Import/Export Data on Healthy Track

By Jessica Franken, director of government affairs & Dawnee Giammittorio, associate director of government affairs, INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry | May 7, 2012

Congress launches miscellaneous tariff bill process; growing surge in plastic bag restrictions creates opportunities for reusable bags.

The 2011 trade statistics recently released by the US government show that the annual export volume of nonwoven roll goods (categorized under Harmonized Tariff Schedule heading 5603) declined slightly to 290.9 million kilograms from a record high of 301.7 million in 2010, a decrease of 3.6% (see Table 1). The record-setting volume in 2010 was attributed to a surge in trade overall as the world recovered from the “Great Recession.” Despite the decline from last year, the volume for 2011 was greater than levels in 2007, 2008 and 2009 (the lowest level in the last five years), so while the record levels of 2010 may not be sustainable, it appears the trend is heading in the right direction.

Even though volume was down in 2011, the value of exported roll goods saw a modest increase—up 8 percent from $1.54 billion in 2010 to $1.67 billion (see Table 2).

The data for roll goods imported to the US followed a similar pattern, showing a minor decrease in volume, from a high of 194.1 million kilograms in 2010 to 190.9 million kilograms for 2011, and a slight uptick in the value of imported goods, from $846 million in 2010 up to $905 million for 2011. Again the volume and value for goods imported to the US was greater than the lowest levels seen during the worst part of the global recession.

Import/Export Markets

As Table 3 shows, just less than half (46 percent) of US roll goods exports remained in the US-North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) territory during 2011. This is a modest increase from 2010, but too insignificant to forecast as a trend toward the 2002 levels of 60%.  

As Table 4 shows, Canada and Mexico continue as the top two destinations for US nonwoven roll goods, but trade with China also remains strong. Although the volume exported to China was down from 2010, China stays at number three on the list of top trade destinations. As expected after the natural disasters last year, exports to Japan declined after showing a sharp increase in 2010. 

Trade with partners in our hemisphere showed some marked increases, with Colombia appearing in the top 10 with an increase of 91% over last year. Exports to Honduras and the Dominican Republic also made gains over last year’s figures.

As far as imports, China continues to be, by a wide margin, the largest importer of roll goods to the US. Meanwhile, India again made huge strides in the US market, increasing its volume by 77% this year after a 138% increase in 2010.

While the numbers are not quite as dazzling as last year’s, the 2011 data hopefully indicate a trajectory of steady growth after the lows of 2009 and the rebound highs of 2010. The increased volumes to Colombia, Honduras and the Dominican Republic are especially encouraging, particularly in light of the Obama Administration’s recent focus on expanded hemispheric trade as a means to grow the economy.

Congress Launches Miscellaneous Tariff Bill Process—Hurry Up and Wait

The House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee announced the official commencement of the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB) process March 30, giving interested parties until April 30 to request bills that continue duty suspensions on scarce imported components.

INDA and other textile associations coordinated with lawmakers to ensure that bills providing tariff relief for imports of viscose rayon staple fibers were introduced by the deadline. After individual MTBs are introduced they will undergo a vetting process that includes posting for public comment and a review by various federal agencies to confirm they meet two key criteria: (1) they are non-controversial, meaning no competing domestic production; and (2) the tariff revenue that the US government foregoes as a result of the duty suspension does not exceed $500,000. If the lost tariff revenue exceeds the $500,000 threshold, then the government may choose to offer a tariff reduction instead of a duty suspension.

Unfortunately, the duty suspension import data is not publicly available, which makes it difficult to predict what a potential reduction might be. All individual bills that make it through the vetting process are then aggregated into a single omnibus measure, which Congress must pass.

As INDA members surely recall, the last tariff bill was delayed for months by partisan squabbling, preventing companies from accessing much-needed duty relief for imports of rayon and other products during that time. After significant pressure from industry groups, including INDA, lawmakers eventually approved the bill and President Obama signed it into law in August 2010, restoring benefits until the end of 2012. Hopefully, the process has been initiated early enough this time around to avoid any lapses in duty relief, but if it appears that might not be the case then INDA will engage its members to put pressure on Congressional lawmakers.

If you have any questions, contact Jessica Franken, INDA director of government affairs, at

Plastic Bag Restrictions Present Opportunity for Reusable Bag Manufacturers

A recent surge in jurisdictions restricting the use of plastic bags could present many opportunities for INDA members who make reusable bags. Notwithstanding strong opposition from the plastics industry, at least 20 jurisdictions passed regulations in 2011 that restricted plastic bag use, with many more localities across the nation currently considering such laws. 

San Francisco, CA, started its initiative in 2007 and nearly 40 more cities have followed its lead, including Washington, DC, Seattle, WA, Portland, OR, and Austin, TX. Statewide restrictions have been introduced in legislatures as well, including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Maryland, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

The various restrictions have typically taken one of three forms: bag bans that restrict retailers from providing any disposable bags at checkout; bag fees that require customers to pay for their bags, usually between 5 and 10 cents, with a portion of that revenue going to the government; and bag charges that force customers to pay for the bags, but with retailers keeping the proceeds.

An industry group of plastic manufacturers, the American Plastic Bag Alliance, has argued the bans will result in significant job and economic loss to the localities. While the group has produced studies forecasting results supporting their claim, a spokesperson from Washington, DC, says the city has not seen a loss of 100 jobs as the plastic group study predicted.

There are several websites tracking the development of plastic bag laws.

Bag the Ban: A project of Hilex Poly, an industry-leading manufacturer of recycled content high density polyethylene (HDPE) bags, films and related product:

Retail Bag Report: Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection’s interactive map tracking bag activity: