LEESBURG, Va. — With 1,350 employees in its five U.S. factories, New Balance is proud that it still produces 7 million pairs of shoes each year at its plants in Maine and Massachusetts, the last major athletic footwear company that still has manufacturing jobs in the United States.
But the company says those jobs could very well disappear if the U.S. scraps its tariff on athletic footwear coming in from Vietnam.
It’s part of the mounting anxiety caused by the new Trans-Pacific Partnership, the largest trade pact proposed in U.S. history. And as 400 negotiators from nine countries met privately at a golf resort in northern Virginia last week in an attempt to finalize details, New Balance officials weren’t the only ones fretting.
Autoworkers feared the loss of 26,500 domestic jobs and said the production of American cars would fall if Japan joins the pact and the United States drops a 2.5 percent tariff on Japanese cars, making them cheaper to buy.
Doctors worried that it will be harder to get medicines to fight AIDS and other diseases in developing countries if U.S. negotiators insist on extending patents for pharmaceutical companies.
And many members of Congress and other critics lamented that such big decisions were being made in secret meetings, at a luxury resort in the Potomac River Valley, far from public view.
But while opponents derided the new trade pact as “NAFTA on steroids,” a reference to the huge North American Free Trade Agreement passed by Congress in 1993 that opponents say led to U.S. jobs moving to Mexico, backers predicted the Trans-Pacific deal would increase U.S. exports, create more jobs and lower prices for American consumers.
Negotiations include nine countries: the United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Mexico and Canada will soon formally join the talks, bringing the total membership to 11 countries. Japan already has expressed interest in participating, and China is regarded as a potential partner down the road.
“It’s NAFTA on steroids in terms of its geographic scope, its economic scope and the new powers it gives to corporations,” said Arthur Stamoulis, a critic of the trade deal and executive director of the Citizens Trade Campaign, a coalition that includes labor and environmental groups.
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