Angus King: Put trade talks on hold, keep athletic footwear tariff that helps New Balance

Posted Aug. 14, 2012, at 7 p.m.
Former Gov. Angus King speaks at Bowdoin College in Brunswick in March 2012.
Joel Page | AP
Former Gov. Angus King speaks at Bowdoin College in Brunswick in March 2012.

Independent former Gov. Angus King said Tuesday negotiations surrounding a trade agreement that could lead to the elimination of a tariff on athletic footwear should be put on hold until the economy improves and that the tariff shouldn’t be removed at all.

King, one of six candidates vying to replace Olympia Snowe in the U.S. Senate, made his statements about the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a free-trade agreement in the works that includes Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States — before he toured New Balance’s shoe manufacturing facility in Skowhegan.

New Balance, the last major shoe company with manufacturing in the United States, has said the tariff on athletic footwear makes it possible for the Boston-based company to operate its three factories in Maine and two in Massachusetts rather than transfer the work overseas. New Balance’s Maine factories are in Norridgewock, Oxford and Skowhegan.

“Eliminating the tariff on athletic footwear creates an uneven playing field that makes it impossible for this company and others across the country to compete,” King said in a statement. “There are more than 900 jobs at stake in Maine, and it would be a terrible blow to the region and the state if these jobs are lost.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and Sen. Susan Collins last month hosted a press conference with New Balance officials in Washington, D.C., where they argued against dropping tariffs through the proposed trade agreement. Snowe also has supported tariffs that benefit New Balance and invited U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to visit one of Maine’s New Balance factories this fall.

Meanwhile, Kirk’s office says trade agreement negotiations among the participating nations will continue next month in Leesburg, Va.

Democrat Cynthia Dill and independent Danny Dalton on Tuesday lined up with King’s position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, while independents Steve Woods and Andrew Ian Dodge said they generally opposed tariffs. Republican Charlie Summers couldn’t be reached for a comment on the trade agreement late Tuesday afternoon.

Dill said there’s “no reason” to drop the athletic footwear tariffs.

“New Balance is the only athletic shoe firm left in the United States that still makes its footwear on our shores,” she said in a statement. “It is vital that we do all we can to protect the workers in our Skowhegan and Norridgewock factories from unfair trade practices abroad.”

Dalton said he agreed with King’s position, but called for more transparency in the trade agreement negotiations.

Dodge, a libertarian and free-trade proponent, said tariffs can’t realistically be part of free trade agreements.

“If a tariff protects a company, that’s wrong, and it means they remain uncompetitive and protected by government, leading to higher prices for the consumer and lack of choice,” he said.

Woods warned against relying too much on protectionism to keep U.S. jobs and said trade agreement negotiations shouldn’t be delayed.

“For countries we are engaged in doing business with, the optimum goal would be to eliminate any reasonable trade barriers relative to both export and import,” he said. “It only becomes unfair when there’s a specific restriction going in one direction.”

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