DC Lobbyists Upbeat on Fate of Anti-Tariff Bill

WASHINGTON — A coalition of top footwear players is rallying behind the reintroduction of a bill in the U.S. Senate that would eliminate duties on certain types of low-priced and children’s footwear.

Sen. John Ensign (R., Nevada) and nine other senators unveiled the Affordable Footwear Act on March 26, a required procedural step for legislation in each new session of Congress. House lawmakers are expected to reintroduce the bill in the coming weeks.

The footwear industry has been lobbying for the Affordable Footwear Act for nearly a year-and-a-half. An attempt earlier this year to attach the bill to President Barack Obama’s economic recovery plan failed, but the industry players feel the time is ripe to move the legislation this year.

“We feel now more than ever is the appropriate time to pass the bill,” said Matt Priest, president of the Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America. “We’re in a recession, and folks are struggling, and there are savings that can be passed along to consumers.”

The duty-dropping act would eliminate some $800 million in tariffs on the approximately $1.7 billion collected each year. It would also eliminate tariffs on about 60 percent of shoes imported into the U.S., or nearly 1.5 million pairs annually, according to the National Retail Federation, which called the current tariffs a “70-year-old shoe tax.”

The coalition, which includes four trade associations and executives from nearly 50 companies, is reiterating a long-standing argument that the tax is no longer protecting a domestic manufacturing base and should be abolished for that reason alone. Executives are confident they can build on the support they had in Congress last year when one-third of the House, or 156 lawmakers, signed on, and 15 senators supported the bill.

“We have a good track record,” said Kevin Burke, president and CEO of the American Apparel & Footwear Association.

Burke said the bill ran into obstacles last year because it was introduced in the middle of the year and during an election year.

“My experience has been that oftentimes legislation takes you a session or two to gain traction,” said Burke. “This issue really hits home this year in every congressional district, and now we have more time to explain why it’s so important in both the House and the Senate.”

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