LEESBURG, Va. With 1,350 employees in its five U.S. factories, New Balance is proud that it still produces 7 million pairs of shoes each year at its plants in Maine and Massachusetts, the last major athletic footwear company that still has manufacturing jobs in the United States.
But the company says those jobs could very well disappear if the United States scraps its tariff on athletic footwear coming in from Vietnam.
It's part of the mounting anxiety caused by the new trans-Pacific partnership, the largest trade pact proposed in U.S. history. As 400 negotiators from nine countries met privately at a golf resort in northern Virginia last week in an attempt to finalize details, New Balance officials weren't the only ones fretting.
Autoworkers feared the loss of 26,500 domestic jobs and said the production of American cars would fall if Japan joins the pact and the United States drops a 2.5 percent tariff on Japanese cars, making them cheaper to buy.
Doctors worried that it will be harder to get medicines to fight AIDS and other diseases in developing countries if U.S. negotiators insist on extending patents for pharmaceutical companies.
And many members of Congress and other critics lamented that such big decisions were being made in secret meetings.
But while opponents derided the new trade pact as "NAFTA on steroids," a reference to the huge North American Free Trade Agreement passed by Congress in 1993 that opponents say led to U.S. jobs moving to Mexico, backers predicted the trans-Pacific deal would increase U.S. exports, create more jobs and lower prices for U.S. consumers.
Negotiations include nine countries: the United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Mexico and Canada will soon formally join the talks. Japan has expressed interest in participating, and China could be a partner down the road.
The deal is an attempt to get the United States to cash in on a region that accounts for more than 40 percent of all international trade. In addition to eliminating many tariffs, negotiators hope to reduce regulations and the cost of trade, to promote more digital and "green" technology, and to come up with rules on a wide variety of topics, ranging from sanitary standards to environmental issues.
The Asia-Pacific region is an increasingly important market for U.S. businesses, accounting for $775 billion in exports in 2010, a 25.5 percent increase from just a year earlier.
In a speech in Russia on Sept. 8, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the deal is part of the president's plan to advocate for U.S. businesses and to double the nation's exports during a five-year period, from the year that Obama took office to 2014.
Negotiators concluded their 14th round of talks Saturday, wrapping up 10 days of meetings at the Lansdowne Conference Center in Leesburg.
The talks are expected to continue into next year, with the next round of talks set for Dec. 3-12 in Auckland, New Zealand.