Time to pass the U.S. OUTDOOR Act to support American jobs and consumers
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As Congress returns from the August recess and turns its attention to the fall legislative calendar, tax reform will be a priority for the House, Senate and White House. Outdoor industry manufacturers, retailers and suppliers will track this issue closely and work to ensure that changes to the U.S. tax code will have a positive impact on the $887 billion outdoor recreation economy, which supports 7.6 million jobs.

This is an ideal time for Congress to act on the “hidden” taxes that impact outdoor companies and consumers in the form of outdated and unnecessarily high import tariffs. These taxes lead to higher costs, less innovation and fewer American jobs. Passing the U.S. OUTDOOR Act—introduced in the Senate by Sens. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThe Hill's Whip List: Republicans try again on ObamaCare repeal Another health funding cliff puts care for millions at risk Top Senate Dem: We're going forward with understanding we can work with White House on DACA MORE (R-Mo.) and Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellUse tax reform to strengthen what’s working: The low-income housing tax credit Senate energy bill is misguided gift to Trump’s dirty fossil fuel agenda Help states solve their housing problems with the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act MORE (D-Wash.) and in the House by Reps. Dave ReichertDavid ReichertJuan Williams: Momentum builds against gerrymandering GOP worries as state Dems outperform in special elections Targeted Republicans push back on retirement speculation MORE (R-Wash.) and Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerCongress should stand with the majority of Americans and support Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment Dem to join mental health group advocating Trump's removal House votes to block aircraft sales to Iran MORE (D-Ore.)—and eliminating duties on recreational performance outerwear would be a good place to start.

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Recreational performance outerwear is unique, innovative, high-tech apparel, such as ski jackets and snowboard pants, designed to withstand the rigors of outdoor recreation, which often occur in challenging conditions.

The products OIA members sell enhance the outdoor experience, whether skiing, snowboarding, hiking, trail running or engaging in other outdoor activities. They are go-to items for congressional representatives and their staffs who get away from the Hill and the legislative calendar and enjoy the national parks and trails in the Capital region.

A primary mission of outdoor companies is to provide exceptional quality at reasonable prices. The more successful our members are at doing this, the more Americans are able to spend time outdoors. The hidden import tax is a significant barrier to that goal.

The average inbound tax on products entering the United States is less than 2 percent. Outdoor products, on the other hand, face tariffs on average of about 14 percent and as high as 40 percent. So, that $130 ski jacket you bought at your local outdoor retailer? It includes $27 in hidden taxes. Those $200 snowboard pants that keep you warm and dry? They carry $13 in hidden taxes. These hidden taxes take more money out of your pocket and put up more barriers to getting outdoors.

In addition to being unnecessarily high, these taxes are outdated, going back to the Smoot-Hawley era of the 1930s, and do not reflect current market conditions. The manufacturing of performance outerwear moved offshore years ago, and no commercially meaningful domestic manufacturing of these products remains.

These taxes do not protect a domestic industry and are hardly a significant source of revenue for the U.S. government. The significant results of these taxes are less money to develop new technologies and fabrics not yet on the market, less money to create more U.S. jobs and higher costs for outdoor companies and consumers.

The U.S. OUTDOR Act represents a better way to do business, consistent with the outdoor industry’s balanced trade policy of seeking to eliminate hidden taxes on only those products where there is no viable domestic production. It was developed by a coalition of outdoor manufacturers, retailers and suppliers, Outdoor Industry Association and in close consultation with the domestic textile industry. We are proud to have a bi-partisan and bi-cameral group of congressional champions led by Blunt, Cantwell, Reichert and Blumenauer in this effort. They understand that passing the U.S. OUTDOOR Act will help drive the outdoor recreation economy, lower costs for outdoor companies and consumers and increase the type of innovation outdoor companies are known for.

As an added bonus, the Act will create jobs. Although manufacturing jobs have moved offshore, eliminating these taxes will increase opportunities in jobs related to product design, testing and development. The Senate bill also creates the Sustainable Textile and Apparel Research (STAR) Fund to support U.S. jobs and the research and development of sustainable textile and apparel supply chains. 

Above all, the U.S. OUTDOOR Act will help more Americans, including congressional representatives and staffers in Washington, D.C., stay warm and dry as they enjoy the great outdoors.

Two years ago, Congress recognized that recreational performance outerwear is distinct from ready-made, mass-market apparel and created new definitions and new tariff lines for these products in the U.S. Harmonized Tariff Schedule. That was a huge step forward for outdoor companies and consumers, but the import tariffs remained in place on those products. As Congress considers significant changes to the U.S. tax code, it should not miss the opportunity to tackle the hidden taxes facing recreational performance outdoor wear and should pass the U.S. OUTDOOR Act.

Amy Roberts is executive director of Outdoor Industry Association.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.