New Balance claims Obama administration promised shoe contract for silence on TPP.

posted at 9:21 pm on April 13, 2016 by John Sexton

New Balance, a Boston company that makes athletic shoes, says someone from the Obama administration promised to help get the company a substantial military contract in exchange for the company ending its vocal opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.

Despite the promise, no order for shoes was ever placed by the Pentagon, so now the company is renewing its opposition to TPP. The Boston Globe reported Tuesday:

“We swallowed the poison pill that is TPP so we could have a chance to bid on these contracts,” said Matt LeBretton, New Balance’s vice president of public affairs. “We were assured this would be a top-down approach at the Department of Defense if we agreed to either support or remain neutral on TPP. [But] the chances of the Department of Defense buying shoes that are made in the USA are slim to none while Obama is president.”

A law on the books requires that all uniforms for American service personnel be made in the United States, but athletic shoes have long been considered exempt. While New Balance makes most of its shoes overseas it has invested in domestic production facilities that would allow it to produce completely U.S. made styles. That’s where an administration official stepped in promising to help reward the company’s efforts if they would quiet down about the trade deal:

In 2014, the Pentagon relented. With competition among US manufacturers, officials said they were ready to consider domestically made shoes.

LeBretton said a representative for the Obama administration then asked New Balance to accept a compromise version of the trade deal, partly in exchange for a pledge of help getting the Department the Defense to expedite the purchase of US-made shoes.

But that help never arrived, LeBretton said. The agency still hasn’t ordered any US-made sneakers.

A spokesman for the Office of the US Trade Representative gave the Globe a statements saying, “It is unfortunate that, despite a strong outcome in TPP that advances the interest of US footwear workers, New Balance now appears to be changing its position on TPP in response to the Pentagon’s separate procurement process.”

Notice, first, that’s not a denial of the claim made by New Balance. Second, it ignores the thrust of that claim, actually misstates it. New Balance isn’t changing its stance because of the procurement process. New Balance says it changed its stance (to silence) only because of the promise of a Pentagon contract. If the US Trade Rep objects to New Balance changing its stance because of the procurement process then it ought to be saluting their decision not to be swayed by it and to object to the deal.

This is not the first time the Obama administration has been caught playing hardball with Republican-friendly corporations (New Balance’s owner is a Republican donor). In 2011 the Justice Department raided the Gibson guitar factory. The company was shut down using a sealed warrant it was never allowed to see, supposedly for importing illegal wood. Eventually the company settled the case.


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