The New Balance Athletic Shoe Co. is taking off the gloves with the Obama administration for its support of a 12-nation Asian trade agreement and for what the company says is its failure to keep a Department of Defense promise to buy American-made footwear for the military.

The Boston-based company, with Maine factories in Skowhegan, Norridgewock and Norway, has been quiet over the last year on its opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal because the company wanted the military footwear contract — but that silence has ended, Matt LeBretton, New Balance’s vice president of public affairs, said Tuesday.

Maine’s congressional delegation Tuesday also blasted the Department of Defense for delaying implementation of a promise that the military would require members to wear American-made athletic shoes, the only exception to the Berry Amendment, which requires the military buy American-made uniforms for personnel.

LeBretton said in a telephone interview that the trade agreement and the Berry Amendment are separate issues that have been pulled together over the question of how to strengthen the company’s five factories in the U.S. He said the Obama administration has the ability to “do what it needs to” with both issues.

LeBretton said New Balance is “coming out against TPP after remaining neutral and quiet for about a year on the issue. This administration has failed to provide a pathway that allows us to be confident that our government will take the steps to ensure our continued domestic operations and the growth in those operations.

“I would say that when Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump all agree on something, then it has to be given a closer look; and they all agree that TPP is not the right policy,” he said by phone.


U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, visited New Balance’s Norridgewock factory last week to show support for the company.

Poliquin “has been leading the support for American manufacturing jobs, like the 900 in Maine at New Balance, by urging the Pentagon to fully implement the Berry Amendment,” his press secretary Brendan Conley said in an email Tuesday.

Joao Rodrigues, left, removes a pair of newly formed midsoles for the proposed New Balance 950v2 sneaker in July. The sneaker has passed military testing and would be used by the military. The company and Maine's congressional delegation are pressing the Department of Defense and the Obama administration to keep promises that the military will require personnel to use American-made athletic shoes.

Joao Rodrigues, left, removes a pair of newly formed midsoles for the proposed New Balance 950v2 sneaker in July. The sneaker has passed military testing and would be used by the military. The company and Maine’s congressional delegation are pressing the Department of Defense and the Obama administration to keep promises that the military will require personnel to use American-made athletic shoes.

Maine Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, in a joint statement said, “The intent of the Berry amendment is clear: the military will provide its personnel with American-made equipment and uniforms whenever possible,. It continues to perplex us why the Department of Defense continues to drag its feet in aligning its practices with the requirements of this law, especially when the hardworking men and women of New Balance make some of the finest American-made shoes available.”

The Transpacific Partnership is a multi-national 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 phase out 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. and jeopardize New Balance factory jobs in New England.

The pact could be voted on by Congress later this year, though possibly not until after the November election, LeBretton said.

At issue with New Balance is the government’s promise to buy American-made footwear for the U.S. military. New Balance imports materials, but is one of the only major athletic shoe companies that manufactures its shoes in the U.S.


Congress first established the domestic purchasing mandate — the Berry Amendment — in 1941, and for decades, the military complied by issuing American-made uniforms, including athletic footwear, for American troops.

Citing a decline in domestic shoe manufacturing in recent years, the Department of Defense skirted the policy by issuing cash allowances to soldiers — about $80 each — for their own purchase of athletic shoes, which meant the soldiers could buy footwear manufactured outside the United States.

The department announced in April 2014 that it would require new military recruits to use the cash footwear allowance to buy athletic shoes that are compliant with the Berry Amendment, but that has yet to happen.

That requirement would include shoes made in three New Balance factories in Maine — Skowhegan, Norridgewock and Norway — once they become available in the marketplace.

New Balance employs about 900 people in Maine and 3,000 across the country. Factories in Skowhegan and Norridgewock make more than 1.6 million pairs of shoes each year. The Skowhegan plant has about 320 employees and Norridgewock has about 390.

In his visit to the Norridgewock factory April 4, Poliquin said, “We want these American-made shoes to be on these American men and women who are keeping us safe and free — period.”


Poliquin is pushing for language in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act to require the Department of Defense to use American-made products when available.

Poliquin also voted in June, along with Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, against fast-track legislation for the trade pact, which would make it easer for Obama to negotiate the deal. Collins and King also voted against it.

“The congressman has often said that the secretive process of negotiating major deals is not fair to the American people and businesses like New Balance,” Conley said. “That’s why he voted, twice, against granting fast track to the president.”

He added that Poliquin “believes we need to protect and grow our Second District jobs by making sure our businesses and employers like New Balance are able to compete on a level playing field in the global market place. This fast-track trade legislation did not achieve that goal.”

Collins and King, in their statement Tuesday, said, “American workers can meet the footwear requirements of nearly all our military service members and we will continue to press the Department of Defense to see that they are finally given the full opportunity to do so.”

In April 2013, Collins and King, joined by 13 other senators, sent a letter to Obama urging him to direct the Department of Defense to ensure that new service members were issued or provided athletic footwear made in the U.S., consistent with Department of Defense procurement policies.


In May 2013, Collins authored and King cosponsored a bill that would require the department to treat athletic footwear like every other uniform item, including boots, and ensure that such items are bought from American manufacturers, such as New Balance.

LeBretton, who visited the Pentagon with other shoe manufacturing representatives in September 2014, said last year that the company was “cautiously optimistic” that the trade pact would include certain provisions that would allow New Balance to continue to grow.

New Balance agreed to a compromise version of the pact, partly in exchange for a promise of help getting the defense department to hasten the purchase of U.S.-made shoes. So far there has been no contract for U.S.-made athletic footwear.

New Balance, noting that it is true that shoes can be made more cheaply in trade pact nations, such as Vietnam, has agreed to sell footwear to the military at cost, LeBretton said.

He said any claims by the government that New Balance shoes that were tested are not up to military standards is not true. New Balance made a specialty shoe designed specifically for the rigors of basic training.

“We gave a promise that we would stay neutral, even though it was difficult at times, knowing that we wouldn’t do as great in TPP as we had hoped,” he said. “But seeing that there was an opportunity for us to sell shoes — ultimately, that’s what we want to do. The Obama administration decided not to do anything.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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