President Obama will take his campaign for a free trade deal to the headquarters of Nike Friday, where he’s extracted a pledge from the world’s largest athletic shoe company that it will hire 10,000 workers in the United States over the next decade if a Pacific trade agreement passes Congress.
But Obama’s appearance at a company known for importing shoes from contract factories in the Pacific Rim is also drawing protests from unions and other liberal groups who oppose the trade deal.
In Portland, Obama will argue that free trade will create American jobs by reducing barriers to selling American goods overseas. Nike says reducing tariffs would allow it to invest in manufacturing in the United States, allowing it to export more shoes, get them to domestic customers faster, and even customize more shoes for its customers.
At first, Nike seemed like an unlikely venue for a speech touting the virtues of free trade. It has 26,000 employees in the United States, but 330,000 in Vietnam, where the minimum wage is 56 cents an hour.
“We believe agreements that encourage free and fair trade allow Nike to do what we do best: innovate, expand our businesses and drive economic growth,” Nike President Mark Parker said in a statement released to coincide with Obama’s speech. He said Nike’s investments would also result in another 40,000 jobs from U.S. contractors, although the company provided few specifics of its plans.
“One of the things that we need to do to put people back to work is make sure we are accessing the markets of the future,” Obama said Thursday night, previewing his Nike speech at a Portland fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee.
“Ninety-five percent of the world’s markets are outside our borders,” he said. “We’ve got the best workers in the world, the best universities in the world, the most innovative companies in the world, the best scientists and research in the world. So we are not afraid of competition. We are concerned if the playing field is not level. And that’s why we’ve got to have the kinds of enforceable, tough, fair trade deals that are going to make sure that American workers and American businesses aren’t locked out of these markets.”
Outside the hotel, where donors paid up to up to $33,400 for the fundraiser, demonstrators protested the proposed deal with a twist on Nike’s own slogan: “Just Don’t Do It.”
Like President Clinton before him, Obama’s free trade push has met resistance from within his own Democratic party. The White House has argued that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will have more labor and environmental protections than previous trade agreements. But he’s also pushing for “fast-track” negotiating rules — known as trade promotion authority — that would make it impossible for Congress to insist on stronger provisions before an up-or-down vote on passage.
Ever since the White House announced the Nike visit, critics of the proposed trade deal have questioned the appearances of the Nike visit.
“It is sad to see how detached from reality President Obama is when it comes to TPP,” said Murshed Zaheed of Credo Action, a progressive activist group. “The symbolism of his speech is staggering — the Nike brand was built by outsourcing manufacturing to sweatshops in Asia.”
SOURCE: USA Today – Gregory Korte