SKOWHEGAN — State Rep. Jeff McCabe will meet with international trade negotiators this weekend to discuss import tariffs he says are critical to the survival of the Maine footwear industry.

The two-term Skowhegan Democrat said he will take his message of jobs for rural Maine to the Transpacific Partnership stakeholder meeting in Leesburg, Va., on Sunday.

“We’ll be talking to the people who are competing against New Balance,” McCabe said Tuesday. “There will be people from Asian countries there. For me, it’s just going there and explaining how important New Balance is to this community and to this area as far as jobs go and being such an anchor in our community.”

The Transpacific Partnership is a multi-nation trade agreement under negotiation, in theory, to create jobs in the U.S. by increasing exports to the Asia-Pacific region.

Those who oppose the agreement, including McCabe, say if the trade partnership is adopted it will eliminate some tariffs, or import fees, on goods coming into the country, such as shoes, making them cheaper than American-made ones.

McCabe said doing away with the tariffs would make it easier for other countries, especially Vietnam, where shoes are made by people earning low wages, to sell their products in the U.S. and hurt jobs in Maine.

Negotiating members are the U.S., Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore and Brunei. Canada and Mexico have also been invited to join the negotiations.

New Balance employs about 900 people in Maine at three factories in Norridgewock, Oxford and Skowhegan — and 3,000 across the country.

McCabe said he will fly from Boston early Sunday morning and return the same day and that he is paying for the flight with money collected through his leadership political action committee.

McCabe said he originally was going to have a table at the meeting with other members of Maine’s trade delegation, but was asked by the organizers to do a presentation.

“They seemed to think this was an important subject and myself being from the community to deliver that message of how important New Balance is,” he said. “It’s one of those opportunities where you can make a personal connection. I think that’s key and it’s really important just telling the New Balance story.”

He said he hopes to show trade representatives a short video, “New Balance: ‘Made in the USA’,” shot in 2009 in Skowhegan, showing the town and the company’s workers.

McCabe said U.S Trade Representative Ron Kirk is scheduled to visit New Balance Sept. 13 to meet with workers and learn more about the company’s concerns.

Kirk was invited to visit Maine by U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, who is leaving office after deciding not to seek re-election.

“While he is in Maine, I sincerely hope that he considers the potentially devastating impact a faulty and ill-informed Transpacific Partnership agreement could have on our nation’s only remaining athletic shoe manufacturer,” Snowe said in July.

She said New Balance and its 38 small business suppliers across the country support roughly 10,000 jobs.

McCabe said it is important to make sure the proposed trade agreement remains in the public eye in order to save those jobs.

“This is an opportunity to highlight the work that New Balance is doing — they’re a progressive company with their community outreach; they’re involvement is huge.”

 


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