New Balance Athletic Shoe Co. is taking the Obama administration to task for its support of a 12-nation Asian trade agreement and for what the company says is the Defense Department’s failure to keep a promise to buy American-made footwear for the military.

The Boston-based company – which has Maine factories in Skowhegan, Norridgewock and Norway – has been quiet over the past year about its opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, known as TPP, because the company wanted to supply footwear to the military. But that silence has ended, Matt LeBretton, New Balance’s vice president of public affairs, said Tuesday.

Maine’s congressional delegation also rebuked the Department of Defense on Tuesday for delaying implementation of a promise that the military would require members to wear American-made athletic shoes, the only exception to the Berry Amendment, which requires that the military buy American-made uniforms.

New Balance is “coming out against TPP after remaining neutral and quiet for about a year on the issue,” LeBretton said in a telephone interview. “This administration has failed to provide a pathway that allows us to be confident that our government will take the steps to ensure our continued domestic operations and the growth in those operations.

“I would say that when Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump all agree on something, then it has to be given a closer look; and they all agree that TPP is not the right policy,” he said.

The TPP is a multinational agreement intended 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. However, the agreement also could phase out 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. and jeopardizing New Balance factory jobs in New England.

The pact could be voted on by Congress this year, although possibly not until after the November election, LeBretton said.

Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, visited New Balance’s Norridgewock factory last week to show support for the company, and his press secretary issued a statement Tuesday saying that Poliquin “has been leading the support for American manufacturing jobs, like the 900 in Maine at New Balance, by urging the Pentagon to fully implement the Berry Amendment.”

Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King also issued a statement.

“The intent of the Berry Amendment is clear: The military will provide its personnel with American-made equipment and uniforms whenever possible,” Maine’s senators said. “It continues to perplex us why the Department of Defense continues to drag its feet in aligning its practices with the requirements of this law, especially when the hardworking men and women of New Balance make some of the finest American-made shoes available.”

New Balance is one of the few major athletic-shoe companies that make shoes in the U.S., although it does import some shoemaking materials.

Congress first established the Berry Amendment – a domestic purchasing mandate – in 1941, and for decades the military complied by issuing American-made uniforms, including athletic footwear, for American troops.

Citing a decline in domestic shoe manufacturing in recent years, the Department of Defense skirted the policy by issuing cash allowances to soldiers – about $80 each – for their own purchase of athletic shoes, which meant the soldiers could buy footwear manufactured outside the United States.

The department announced in April 2014 that it would require new military recruits to use the cash footwear allowance to buy athletic shoes that are compliant with the Berry Amendment, but that has yet to happen.

New Balance employs about 900 people in Maine and 3,000 across the country. Factories in Skowhegan and Norridgewock make more than 1.6 million pairs of shoes each year. The Skowhegan plant has about 320 employees and Norridgewock has about 390.

Poliquin is pushing for language in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act to require the Department of Defense to use American-made products when available.

Poliquin also voted in June, along with Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, against fast-track legislation for the trade pact, which would make it easier for Obama to negotiate the deal. Collins and King also voted against it.

In April 2013, Collins and King, joined by 13 other senators, sent a letter to Obama urging him to direct the Department of Defense to ensure that new service members were issued or provided athletic footwear made in the U.S., consistent with Department of Defense procurement policies.

In May 2013, Collins authored and King co-sponsored a bill that would require the department to treat athletic footwear like every other uniform item, including boots, and ensure that such items are bought from American manufacturers, such as New Balance.

New Balance, noting that it is true that shoes can be made more cheaply in trade pact nations, such as Vietnam, has agreed to sell footwear to the military at cost, LeBretton said.

He said any claims by the government that New Balance shoes that were tested are not up to military standards aren’t true. New Balance made a shoe designed specifically for the rigors of basic training.

“We gave a promise that we would stay neutral, even though it was difficult at times, knowing that we wouldn’t do as great in TPP as we had hoped,” he said. “But seeing that there was an opportunity for us to sell shoes – ultimately, that’s what we want to do. The Obama administration decided not to do anything.”

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

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Twitter: Doug_Harlow

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