Sleeping-Bag Maker Wins Obama Help With Bangladesh Imports

An Alabama maker of sleeping bags fighting low-cost competition from Bangladesh won a victory as President Barack Obama excluded the imports from U.S. tariff reductions for developing nations.

The move announced yesterday by the U.S. Trade Representative’s office came in the annual review of the reductions, known as the Generalized System of Preferences. The benefits lapsed at the end of 2010 and were renewed in October along with approval of free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.

Exxel Outdoors Inc. of Haleyville, Alabama, petitioned to exempt sleeping bags from Bangladesh from the tariff reductions. The company’s founder, Harry Kazazian, has said cheap imports endangered the jobs of 84 employees at his plant. Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, who represents Alabama, blocked the renewal of the trade preferences for 129 nations last year in support of Kazazian’s campaign.

“This is an amazing Christmas gift,” Kazazian said in an interview yesterday. “It’s something we’ve been fighting for two years on behalf of our workers and industry.”

The Generalized System of Preferences removes duties on imports such as silver jewelry, radial tires and raw materials from eligible nations through July 2013. More than $22.6 billion in goods entered the U.S. duty-free under the preferences in 2010, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission, giving companies such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Campbell Soup Co. a combined $689 million in savings.

One Product Removed

“President Obama determined that one product -- certain non-down sleeping bags -- should be removed from eligibility for duty-free treatment under GSP because it is import-sensitive,” the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said in an e-mailed statement.

Sessions praised the decision, saying in an e-mailed statement that it “defends the rights of workers in Alabama and throughout the nation.”

A separate petition to remove two types of self-adhesive plastic tape was denied, according to the trade representative’s office.

The Obama administration is reviewing petitions seeking to withdraw or limit preferences based on countries’ practices, and the trade agency said it plans to hold a hearing on Jan. 24 on worker rights in Bangladesh, Georgia, Niger, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Uzbekistan.

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