Controversial Trade Agreement Receives Support From Footwear Industry

The shoe industry descended on Capitol Hill on Sept. 14 to make a renewed case for passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The industry organization Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America organized the day of meetings with Congressional leaders in Washington, D.C., to argue in favor of the hotly debated trade bill, and also to gauge where support lies. According to the FDRA, around two dozen representatives were on hand from brands that included Nike, Adidas and Wolverine World Wide, along with reps from such retailers as Rack Room Shoes, Payless ShoeSource and Walmart.

FDRA president Matt Priest said it was crucial for the industry to continue to take an active and leading role in the TPP debate, especially given the rhetoric in the presidential campaign. On Sept. 14, there were dual protests and hearings on the Hill led by opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders and supporter (and lead negotiator) Ambassador Michael Froman from the office of the United States Trade Representative.

While many in Congress are expected to ultimately support the deal, members are remaining tight-lipped about their support, hoping to not sway voters one way or the other due to the unpopularity of the deal thanks to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  Congressional leaders and TPP supporters are aiming to pass the deal during the lame-duck session after the November general election, when members know whether they are staying or exiting in the next term.

The 12-nation trade deal was finalized last October, but it has become a lightning rod for the presidential candidates, who have used the deal as an example of earlier trade deals that moved U.S. jobs offshore and to bolster protectionist platforms.

Priest said while the industry has been pressing the benefits of the deal, it’s also highlighting the major challenges the agreement faces should Congress choose not to act this year. He said while the Senate looks like it will stay in Republican control, there is still enough time before Nov. 8 for things to shift. With members in the House retiring and several supporters in at-risk districts in Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio, it’s going to be a rush to the finish line in November.

“I don’t think the urgency is there quite yet, but that will change as we head to the lame-duck [period],” said Priest. “The benefits for us haven’t changed, but the political dynamic has. Our forecast is pretty negative if [N.Y.] Sen. [Chuck] Schumer takes over the Senate. We’re pretty frank that after December, we don’t see a clear path forward. And if we punt it, it is three to five years.”

Insiders say that the most likely scenario for passage is if Clinton wins the presidency, but even then there is no guarantee.

Priest also alluded to the fact that Congressional insiders were still stuck on the biologics and pharmaceutical provisions of the deal. The hangup was stymieing the process, though industry leaders were seen on the Hill this week to negotiate changes. Priest also said there was a lot of concern from Congress and from TPP leaders that a failure of the deal would hurt the U.S. reputation globally and also feed right into China and Russia’s power-seeking narrative. 

The next steps for the industry, said Priest, were that many companies would be enlisting employees to support the deal, which would cut tariffs by half a billion dollars in the first year alone, and focus on the letter-writing campaign.

“This becomes a credibility issue for the U.S. — and the whole world is watching,” he said.


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