Officials at the New Balance shoe company, which has factories in Skowhegan and Norridgewock, remain cautiously optimistic the Trans Pacific trade pact still will have provisions to protect U.S. jobs after the Senate late Wednesday night passed “fast track” legislation that makes it easer for the president to negotiate the deal.

The measure allows President Barack Obama to submit trade deals to Congress to be voted on without allowing amendments and is considered critical to passing the trade agreement.

New Balance Athletic Shoe, the Boston-based shoe company, and other U.S. manufacturers oppose the trade pact because it is likely to increase imports, and therefore increase competition for American-made goods.

Matt LeBretton, vice president of public affairs at New Balance corporate offices in Boston, said Thursday that when the trade pact was forming, the company had “significant reservations about the agreement and what it would mean for our manufacturing facilities in Maine and more importantly to our workforce and the communities that host us” as details of the trade agreement emerged.

He said since then, Maine’s congressional delegation — past and present — has helped make progress with the Obama administration on the company’s concerns, but the company continues to reserve judgment on the agreement until the final document is released.

“We are cautiously optimistic that the TPP will include certain provisions that will allow New Balance to continue to grow,” LeBretton said Thursday. “As the only major manufacturer of athletic shoes in the United States, this was a very difficult negotiation, and absent the support of our congressional delegation, this surely would have taken a negative turn. We are grateful for their support.”

New Balance makes more than 1.6 million pair of athletic shoes per year. New Balance employs about 900 Maine workers at factories in Norridgewock, Oxford and Skowhegan. It is the last major footwear manufacturer still making some of its product line in the U.S.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, who visited the New Balanace factory in Norridgewock in April, voted earlier this month along with Rep. Chellie Pingree, 1st District, against the fast track legislation. Maine’s senators, Susan Collins and Angus King, voted against it Wednesday.

In 2012 then-U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told New Balance workers in Skowhegan that a tariff amounts to a direct tax on the consumer. He said the goal of his office is to have trade policies that are fair and balanced, while also protecting the U.S. manufacturing base.

“The reality is 95 percent of the world’s consumers live somewhere other than America,” Kirk said. “One of the ways we’re going to create the jobs Americans are looking for is: ‘Now we want to sell them our stuff.’

“We want kids in China, Hanoi and Brazil and Africa wearing New Balance and driving Chevys and eating food made in America. That’s the balance we’re trying to strike.”

The Transpacific Partnership is a 12-nation agreement intended to create jobs in the U.S. by increasing exports of industrial goods, agricultural products and textiles to parts of Asia and the Pacific Rim. However, the agreement also could lift some tariffs, or import duties, on goods including athletic footwear, making imported, foreign-made shoes cheaper to buy than those made in the U.S.

 

This story has been corrected

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow


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