State of the Union: The Footwear Perspective

The State of the Union isn’t always a highlight for the footwear industry, but President Obama’s speech Tuesday evening hit on more than a few issues for the shoe biz.

Experts homed in on the President’s push to expand and finalize trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP.)

Both agreements have been in negotiations overseas and in Congress for the past several years and aim to open trade with Asia Pacific nations outside of China. For footwear, this would mean open trade with Vietnam, one of the fastest-growing and most significant shoe-manufacturing partners for Western footwear companies.

Matt Priest, president of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America, said he was feeling more confident about the status of the agreements this year than in years past.

“This is one of the issues that really hits home,” said Priest. “The administration has been actively negotiating with the 11 countries included in the TPP, and I really expect it to be finalized soon. We’re positive on the TPP this year. It’s really not a case of if, but when.”

Nate Herman, VP of the American Apparel and Footwear Association, said he, too, was feeling confident that something will happen with the trade agreements this year. He also said he was pleased that the President alluded to getting the U.S. ports in order, especially considering the ongoing work slowdown at the Los Angeles ports.

Among the litany of business issues Obama discussed — minimum-wage increases, paid sick leave, child care and more — Herman said the free community-college proposal could have significant impact.

With a declining skilled workforce for American-made footwear, the President’s plan to have the feds pay for a two-year degree could open the door for vocational programs.

“While the President spent a lot of time talking about technology and such, vocational training is one of the major offerings at community colleges, and encouraging skilled workers could have a positive effect on us,” said Herman.

But whether any of the tax, business or education issues are passed in a Republican Congress remains to be seen. According to some, it’s highly unlikely.

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