Wolverine World Wide Inc., made a big gesture of support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership on May 26.
With the support of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America, the shoe company hosted Ambassador Robert Holleyman, deputy U.S. trade representative at its Big Rapids, Mich. factory. It’s a big step for the shoe brand, which was making a very public stance in the heart of U.S. auto industry. U.S. carmakers haven’t been as willing to embrace the deal.
Wolverine has long been an active supporter of the TPP trade agreement, which would over time eliminate tariffs by member nations. The company said it wanted to host USTR to show how the deal won’t just support its imported footwear from Vietnam, but further develop its U.S. manufacturing.
“When you look at the regressive tariff structure of the footwear industry, it is really striking,” said Brendan Gibbons, general counsel at Wolveirne. He said Wolverine expects to cut its $100 million tariff bill from Vietnam upwards of $20 million a year once the deal is in place.
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“The lion share of that is getting reinvested for technology in our products, facilities and for our workforce. It’s a win-win for us. It’s lower cost for the consumer and means better products for the consumer,” said Gibbons.
The company employs around 600 workers at the facility that produces a variety of footwear brands, including its Bates boots, which are produced for the U.S. military under the Berry Amendment. Wolverine is also expanding production of its Saucony brand there, as well as pieces for Keds, Wolverine and CAT and its 1,000 Mile line.
According to Gibbons, the visit has been a part of a larger strategy by the industry to show support for the TPP. Last week the FDRA and Wolverine, as well as other shoe brands, were on Capitol Hill lobbying for TPP passage and the visit came as a way to support that.
Not all footwear manufacturers seem to be on board with TPP, including New England-based New Balance, which has been vociferous in its stance against the deal. New Balance argues the lower priced footwear imported from Vietnam will make it hard to maintain its domestic workforce.
Up until this point there has been little Congressional willingness to bring the deal up for a vote, with Senate leadership in particular arguing that it wanted certain areas of the deals worked through first. Additionally Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been unwilling to jeopardize any senators up for re-election in districts that could be turned to Democrats.
Last week the U.S. International Trade Commission released its analysis of the report, which showed it would be a big benefit for footwear, but with concerns about impact on job growth and manufacturing could hold the bill up. It’s not stopping the industry from making their case though.
“With Ambassador Holleyman’s visit today we have been able to highlight important aspects of our global industry, and we are hopeful that members of Congress and especially those who represent Michigan will see the strong benefits that TPP will provide to Michigan workers and consumers,” said FDRA president Matt Priest.