The Obama administration wants us to believe that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will rewrite the rules of trade to benefit America’s middle class. But from what we have seen in New England, the new rules look a lot like the old rules, which have shipped too many manufacturing jobs overseas.

The latest evidence against TPP comes from New Balance Inc., a Boston company that employs 900 people in Maine. New Balance is one of the last makers of athletic shoes that does most of its manufacturing in the United States, and it stands to be a big loser under the TPP because the agreement would phase out tariffs on footwear made in Vietnam, flooding the domestic market with cheap imports.

In exchange, New Balance was promised that the U.S. military would adhere to the letter of a 1941 law known as the Berry Amendment that requires all uniforms to be American made. Recently, it has been government policy to give service members a stipend to buy any athletic shoe they choose. If the military followed the Berry Amendment, New Balance would be able to weather a flood of imports.

But the Department of Defense has delayed requiring service members to buy American-made athletic shoes, putting the future of the company and hundreds of Maine families in jeopardy.

While this is not technically an issue with the TPP, it does blow holes in the administration’s promise that American workers would be better off in the end because U.S. exports would have better access to foreign markets.

That will almost certainly be true for some industries, but it won’t be true for them all. And over the last two decades of globalization, we have seen that hollowed-out communities are the price we pay for cheap clothing and shoes.


A job is not just a number on a paycheck. A good, steady job with benefits supports a stable family, and hundreds of jobs like that build the social fabric of cities and towns. Money saved by buying cheap imports from overseas can be invested elsewhere in the economy, but communities are not so portable. When the jobs go away, what’s left?

The Obama administration claims to understand that, and it promotes what it calls tough, verifiable standards in the agreement that would protect American workers from unfair competition.

But if the administration will not even enforce a U.S. law that is already on the books, how will it enforce labor and environmental standards on overseas manufacturers?

Members of Maine’s congressional delegation are right to be angry about the Pentagon’s reluctance to end the athletic-shoe exemption. No assessment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership should be made without considering this disappointing record.

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