SKOWHEGAN – Import tariffs on foreign-made footwear and the impact on jobs in Maine will be the topic of discussion here Wednesday at a public forum on trade.

The forum, hosted by the Citizen Trade Policy Commission, is set for 5:30 to 8 p.m. in the Skowhegan Community Center on Poulin Drive, off U.S. Route 2.

Hundreds of jobs at three New Balance shoe company plants in Maine — in Skowhegan, Norridgewock and Norway — are at stake, said state Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan.

“The meeting is another opportunity to hear from workers about how important these local jobs are,” McCabe said in a new release.

McCabe and Rep. Sharon Treat, D-Hallowell, have been advocating for existing tariffs to remain in place. On the table, however, is an international free trade agreement, the Transpacific Partnership, which is under negotiation among the U.S. and 10 other countries.

McCabe and Treat are both running for re-election this fall — McCabe for the House District 85 seat against Republican Donald L. Skillings, Skowhegan, and Treat for the House District 79 seat against Republican William Guerrette III, West Gardiner.

The goal of the partnership is to create jobs in the U.S. by increasing exports of industrial goods, agricultural products and textiles to parts of Asia and the Pacific Rim. The agreement, however, also could lift some tariffs, or import duties, on goods such as athletic footwear, making imported, foreign-made shoes cheaper to buy than those made in the U.S., hurting American workers.

The trade policy commission monitors the impact of international trade policy on Maine residents. It is made up of legislators, businesses and labor representatives, who make policy recommendations designed to protect Maine jobs.

“Middle-class families are working harder and harder for less and less,” said McCabe, who helped coordinate the trade commission meeting in Skowhegan.

In September, McCabe and Treat met with trade negotiators in Virginia to discuss the potential impact the trade agreement could have on Maine.

The tariffs are critical to the survival of Maine footwear jobs, McCabe said. New Balance factories employ nearly 900 people in Maine. New Balance is the last company to make their sneakers in the United States, and the last major footwear manufacturer to still make some of its product line in the U.S.

“These tariffs level the playing field when we are competing with countries with low wages and poor working conditions,” Treat said.

Treat serves as a state adviser to the U.S. trade representative.

“We should be working to preserve these good jobs, not letting them go extinct,” she said.

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

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