Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Montreal-Made Suits Fly off Racks in US American Makers See a Need for Quotas

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Montreal-Made Suits Fly off Racks in US American Makers See a Need for Quotas

Article excerpt

Free trade between Canada and the United States has hit another snag. This time it's not lumber or steel, it's wool. Or, to be more exact, men's woolen suits.

The Canadian share of all imported suits in the American market has risen from 5 percent in 1988 to almost 24 percent today, according to some estimates.

"Canada has taken over the suit business from Italy in the United States," says Stephen Beatty, director general of the Canadian Apparel Federation (CAF) in Ottawa. "Canadian companies have tapped into the market opened up by Armani and Boss, but with the ability to land product in the United States at a lower price."

Exactly the point the American side is making.

"It's a big problem," says Larry Martin, president of the American Apparel Manufacturers Association. The Washington-based lobbyist says the solution is to cut the number of Canadian men's suits allowed into the US. Right now there is a quota of 1.4 million suits under a tariff preference. Imports of Canadian suits above that level face a stiff tariff. If that seems to go against the spirit of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the lobby group for US men's suit manufacturers has a quick answer: The cloth used in the suits is imported, much of it from Italy.

"They {the Canadian manufacturers} have a decided advantage in the raw materials," Mr. Martin says.

The Canadian side admits it imports woolen cloth. But it says the success of suits made mostly in Montreal is also a question of style. American suit designs remain stodgy, they say, while the Canadians knock off snappy Italian designs.

"At the same time as free trade helped Canadian manufacturers, tastes began to change, with the shift to casual Fridays {when men wear jeans instead of suits to offices}, and the move to less-structured suits," Mr. Beatty says.

A success story of suit manufacturing in North America is Peerless Clothing Inc. …

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