By Ramona du Houx

July 18, 2012

Congressman Michaud sports a New Balance shoe, made in Maine, in Washington, D.C. courtesy photo

Today, wearing a pair of New Balance sneakers made in Norridgewock, Maine, Congressman Mike Michaud participated in a news conference on Capitol Hill he helped organize with Maine New Balance workers and a bipartisan group of members of Congress. The group rallied together to urge the Obama Administration to fight to preserve footwear tariffs as the negotiations continue over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement between Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. Canada and Mexico have also been invited to join the agreement and will be formally admitted in the coming months.

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.

“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. Whether it’s concerns over our debt, jobs, or our economic recovery, eliminating these tariffs would be a terrible mistake on many levels,” said Michaud, Chairman of the House Trade Working Group.

Michaud was joined at the news conference by a number of members of Congress, including Senator Susan Collins, as well as New Balance executives, workers and store owners.

After the press conference during a meeting Michaud set up between New Balance and United States Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk, Congressman Mike Michaud was informed that Kirk will be visiting a Maine New Balance factory this fall. The USTR is a cabinet-level officer and has the responsibility to negotiate trade deals on behalf of the White House.

“I’m pleased that Ambassador Kirk accepted my invitation to tour a Maine New Balance facility,” said Michaud. “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. It’s critical that we make sure this new trade agreement doesn’t disadvantage our domestic manufacturers and threaten the thousands of jobs they support.”

Michaud’s remarks from the press conference today are below:

I’m proud to stand here today next to workers from the U.S. footwear sector, including some from the New Balance factories in my district. I’m especially proud to stand here today in my American-made New Balance sneakers.

We’re here to remind policymakers in Washington, D.C. that footwear is made here in the United States. These workers behind me are proof of the American footwear sector, and they represent the families and communities whose livelihoods depend on the shoe factories. I’ve been to their factories in Maine. I’ve seen firsthand the work they do and the skill it takes to make high quality sneakers. And I’ve seen how important these jobs are to their communities.

It’s important to point out that footwear tariffs don’t give U.S. producers an unfair advantage. Just the opposite – they help level the playing field with footwear companies in Vietnam.

Vietnam’s currency manipulation, state-owned enterprises, and low labor and environmental standards give their footwear factories an unfair advantage over our American producers.

And 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.

These tariffs not only level the playing field, but they keep the doors to New Balance’s factories open. They make it possible for all 4,000 American workers in the U.S. footwear sector to keep their jobs. In addition, and a point not to be overlooked during the conversations about reducing the deficit, these tariffs raised $19 billion in revenues over 10 years.

I delivered this message directly to the President when I handed him a pair of personalized, hand-crafted New Balances made at their Norridgewock facility.

And I arranged a meeting with USTR Kirk this afternoon so our trade negotiators hear firsthand from the workers how important these tariffs are to their jobs and their livelihoods.

At a dinner nearly two years ago, I heard a former USTR claim that we should get rid of all of our footwear tariffs because we no longer make shoes here at home. I said then, and I’m proud to say it again today: we do make shoes here at home.

At a time when we are thinking of ways to bring production back to the U.S., these workers behind me make goods stamped with Made in the U.S.A. day in and day out. The Trans-Pacific Partnership shouldn’t undermine their ability to do that