The National Retail Federation has welcomed the signing of legislation implementing the Dominican Republic- Central American Free Trade Agreement.

“DR-CAFTA will ensure that American consumers can continue to buy the products they need at prices they can afford,” NRF Vice President and International Trade Counsel Erik Autor said. “Without this agreement, apparel manufacturers in the region could not have remained competitive with Asian suppliers now that the worldwide system of textile and apparel quotas has ended. The DR-CAFTA region has always been important because of the time-to- market advantage it holds over Asia. But the region is doubly important today given the anti-China sentiment currently prevailing in Washington. Retailers need reliable alternatives that guarantee a steady supply of merchandise that won’t be interrupted by political whims or international bickering. US consumers don’t want to see empty shelves or soaring prices, and DR-CAFTA offers protection against both.”

President Bush signed H.R. 3045, the DR-CAFTA Implementation Act, sponsored by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas on Aug. 2. The legislation won final passage in the House and Senate July 28.

DR-CAFTA includes the Dominican Republic plus the Central American nations of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Under current trade law, apparel from the region can qualify for duty-free shipment to the United States only if it is made of US fabric woven from US yarn, and even then only certain products are duty-free. DR-CAFTA would expand duty-free treatment to cover a wider range of products and would allow those products to be made of fabric produced in the region, along with a small quantity of fabric from Canada or Mexico. There is little textile production in the Dominican Republic or Central America, however, so as a practical matter manufacturers would still be limited to using mostly US textiles.

The National Retail Federation is the world’s largest retail trade association, with membership that comprises all retail formats and channels of distribution including department, specialty, discount, catalog, Internet, independent stores, chain restaurants, drug stores and grocery stores as well as the industry’s key trading partners of retail goods and services. NRF represents an industry with more than 1.4 million US retail establishments, more than 23 million employees—about one in five American workers—and 2004 sales of $4.1 trillion. As the industry umbrella group, NRF also represents more than 100 state, national and international retail associations.