How Footwear Leaders Reacted to President Trump’s State of the Union Speech

President Donald Trump kicked off his first State of the Union address by touting a strengthening economy and his large tax cut — noting that the middle class and small businesses will see “tremendous relief.”

And while he touched on trade, Trump was somewhat short on details. After the speech, one top footwear leader urged him to put the issue at the top of his agenda.

“Tonight, the president discussed trade and highlighted the importance of focusing on policies that strengthen our economy,” said Matt Priest, president and CEO of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America. “The U.S. footwear industry believes trade is critical to both economic growth and America’s competitiveness. As an industry that provides consumers high-quality footwear from all over the world, it is vitally important that our government continues to look for ways to lessen the footwear import tax burden on American families.”

The FDRA chief called on the Trump administration to immediately focus on permanent solutions to lower and eliminate footwear duties through free trade agreements, trade preference programs — and any other means available and necessary. “American footwear customers deserve relief and deserve it now,” Priest said. He noted that a recent government report outlined the importance of removing import barriers because it would increase disposable income and grow footwear jobs.

FDRA President Matt Priest
FDRA President Matt Priest at the FN CEO Summit in Miami on May 25, 2017.
CREDIT: Patrick MacLeod

Rick Helfenbein, president and CEO of the American Apparel and Footwear Association, said it was encouraging to hear Trump issue a “broadly unifying message” tonight. “The president’s call to improve job training opportunities, provide infrastructure investment and to protect intellectual property was particularly heartening,” Helfenbein said. “We were also happy to hear that the president is still open to developing new trading relationships that will reduce costs and open new markets to American products.”

Like Priest, Helfenbein said Trump and his administration should negotiate agreements that encourage trade and promote American workers, business and families — instead of threatening trade partners.

While Trump boasted about his tax cut and the impact he believes it will have on the middle class, experts aren’t so sure that will trickle down to retailers.

Antony Karabus, CEO of Chicago-based HRC retail advisory, told FN earlier today that he doesn’t expect the tax cut to fuel spending.

“My gut instinct with these tax breaks is that they’re transient because if [the government] gives it to you with one hand, they [often] take it away with the other, whether it’s through healthcare or something else,” Karabus said. “They have to find a way to pay for it.”

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