Right now, the United States is in the process of negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is a free trade agreement between Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S., and Vietnam. Canada and Mexico have also been invited to join the agreement and will be formally admitted in the coming months. Given this long list of countries, it’s critical we get this right.
For a number of reasons, I approach these negotiations with some concern, given how poorly our negotiators have done in the past to craft deals that do not damage our economy and ship jobs overseas. But unlike previous agreements, we have a real shot at making sure a critical Maine industry is not threatened. And I’m going to take every opportunity I can to press our case.
On July 18th, wearing a pair of New Balance sneakers made in Norridgewock, Maine, I participated in a news conference on Capitol Hill with Maine New Balance workers and a bipartisan group of members of Congress. We rallied together to urge the Obama Administration to fight to preserve current footwear tariffs as the negotiations over TPP continue.
And there’s a reason we need to stiffen the backbones of our negotiators on this issue. Under free trade agreements, tariffs are generally phased out. If that happens, Vietnam’s currency manipulation, state-owned enterprises, and low labor and environmental standards will give its footwear factories a significant and unfair advantage over American producers like New Balance. This would present a significant threat to Maine jobs in Norway, Norridgewock, and Skowhegan.
But it’s important to know that we are not asking for a special carve out in preserving these tariffs. In fact, just the opposite is true. All our workers and companies in the U.S. want is a level playing field to compete on. In fact, even with these tariffs, Vietnam’s footwear sector has managed to grow to the second largest exporter of shoes to the U.S., second behind only China.
Current footwear tariffs level the playing field and they’re essential to keeping the doors to New Balance’s factories open. They make it possible for 4,000 American workers in the footwear sector, including nearly 900 in Maine, to keep their jobs. In addition, they raised $19 billion in revenues over 10 years – not an insignificant amount, even for Washington, especially at a time we are trying to lower our debt burden.
Whether it’s concerns over our debt, jobs, or our economic recovery, eliminating these tariffs would be a terrible mistake on many levels.
But I’m glad to know that this is not an average political fight we’re engaged in. Saving American footwear jobs has bipartisan backing that I hope the Administration listens to. I was joined at the news conference by Republican and Democratic members of Congress from both the House and Senate to speak up for our jobs as New Balance workers and executives stood behind us.
Those in charge of negotiating these deals need to see the impact these footwear jobs have on our communities. That’s why after the news conference I joined New Balance at a meeting I arranged for them with United States Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk, who is a cabinet-level officer and has the responsibility to negotiate trade deals on behalf of the White House.
We had a productive meeting, and I’m pleased to report that Ambassador Kirk accepted my invitation to tour a Maine New Balance facility in the coming months. It will be extremely valuable for him to see firsthand how important these jobs are to not only our workers but also to our state. I really appreciate him taking the time to come up to Maine.
We must make sure this new trade agreement doesn’t disadvantage our domestic manufacturers and threaten the thousands of jobs they support. At a time when we are searching for ways to bring production back to the U.S, this should be a no-brainer.