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HILLSVILLE — Parkdale Mills officials worry that a treaty negotiating fewer barriers to international trade could further diminish the already challenged domestic textile industry.
Steve Mauck, a plant manager at Magnolia in Hillsville, expressed his concerns to the town council members at their June 10 meeting, hoping to get more signatures and support for the petition that company officials are circulating.
The free trade deal with Asia, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that the administration is working on could affect 522,000 American textile jobs, including the 380 at Magnolia in Hillsville, officials fear.
“We’re not asking for there to be no imports,” Mauck said. “We just want a level playing field.”
This particular proposal involves free trade between the United States and 11 other countries, “which could provide American textile exports with access to critical Asian markets that have seen tremendous growth in recent years,” according to the petition supplied to The Gazette by Mauck.
The petition pushes for strong rules to prevent “unfair trading practices by countries like China,” which could threaten a recent U.S. textiles industry resurgence led by workers and businesses.
“Our efforts are supported by free trade agreements that include specific rules for textiles, which have served as the foundation of our country's trade agreements for the last 30 years,” the petition said. “These protections prevent countries like China that unfairly subsidize their exports from flooding our markets with cheap, duty-free products that drive down competition and destroy American jobs.”
This process of "dumping" underpriced Chinese merchandise on the American market was something the furniture industry fought hard to stop, led by factory heads from Galax. Now, textiles are the target of what was characterized by U.S. furniture makers as economic sabotage.
Mauck found himself laid off from a textile job in eastern North Carolina several years ago when illegal imports — similar to what happened in the furniture industry, a strategy to drive down prices — cost him his job.
He moved to Hillsville to take a job with Magnolia.
“If those 380 workers in Hillsville had the same experience [he had], it could be a big burden on the community," Mauck told council.
While there’s no danger of a shutdown at Magnolia, Mauck said officials are worried the trade deal could lead to fewer textile jobs overall.
The visit to council on June 10 resulted in more signatures for the petition that asks federal officials to “support U.S. textiles” and to “stop exporting American jobs.”
Parkdale Mills officials have watched new trade negotiations with a critical eye in recent years, such as a free trade agreement with Korea in 2011.
At the time, company officials objected that the trade agreement gave Korea the advantage when it came to import duties for five years. Parkdale Mills officials said a big worry was that China would take advantage of the agreement by sending textile goods to Korea first, putting a "Made in Korea" stamp on them and then shipping the textiles to the United States duty-free.
• Those interested in signing the petition should contact Parkdale Mills officials at the plant in Hillsville by calling (276) 728-1001, then dialing extension 3200 or extension 3291.