Tuesday January 21, 2014 | 12:44 PM

Maine Rep. Mike Michaud, D-District 2, was recently part of a panel of Democratic lawmakers who bashed the Trans-Pacific Partnership on MSNBC, underscoring one of the big challenges facing President Obama as he tries to finalize the massive free trade deal.

The group appeared in a 17-minute segment on MSNBC’s The Ed Show that was critical of the TPP, a trade pact between the U.S. and roughly a dozen other countries largely located in the Asia-Pacific region. Despite the one-sided nature of the segment, the TPP has strong support in many business segments.

Michaud, who is also running for governor this year, accused the Obama administration of a “lack of transparency” in negotiating the TPP, a common criticism of free trade deals. He repeated his concerns that the deal could harm New Balance by eliminating tariffs or import taxes on sneakers made in Vietnam, the number two sneaker-producing country after China.

“That could jeopardize the three facilities we have in Maine,” Michaud said.

The Maine Democrat also managed to get in a jab over what he sees as the Obama administration’s failure to date to require branches of the military to purchase American-made sneakers for new recruits. Michaud and others argue that is a violation of the Berry Amendment, a 1940s-era law requiring members of the military to be outfitted entirely with American-made clothing and gear.

“New Balance and Wolverine, [at] these two companies 100 percent of the materials … in those sneakers are made in America,” Michaud said, referring to special Berry-compliant shoes developed by the companies. “However, we have not been able to get the administration to move forward with the Berry Amendment and now we are dealing with the TPP right on the footsteps.”

The public should expect to hear a lot more about the TPP in the coming months. In a twist from the usual political dynamics in Washington, however, President Obama is having a much tougher time selling the deal to his fellow Democrats than to House and Senate Republicans.

Supporters see the TPP as opening up enormous new markets for U.S. goods in Asia-Pacific countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam, thereby helping American companies and creating domestic jobs. Opponents say past international trade deals have only hurt American workers – especially those in manufacturing – while lining the pockets of corporate executives.

The details of the TPP are still largely a secret, as is common during trade deal negotiations. The Obama administration is also seeking authorization from Congress to fast-track the TPP and other trade deals by requiring either an up-or-down vote on the deals without opportunities for amendments.

According to The Hill newspaper, U.S. Trade Ambassador Michael Froman has met with approximately 70 House and Senate members in recent days as the administration lobbies hard for fast-track authority. But more than 190 House members – largely Democrats but some Republicans, too – have said they would oppose putting the TPP on the fast track, according to Rep. Rosa Delauro, D-Conn.

“This has a far-reaching effect,” DeLauro said of the TPP on The Ed Show. “It is a classified document. We don’t have anything put into it. And now they’ve come back and said they want us to rubber-stamp it and go forward. That’s not going to happen.”

Reports suggest that President Obama could bring up the TPP during his State of the Union address next Tuesday.

 

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
Kevin can be reached at 317-6256 or kmiller@mainetoday.com

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