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President outlines case for fast-track authority as Nike pledges new jobs

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - President Barack Obama told a friendly crowd of about 2,100 people that businesses large and small would benefit from a proposed fast-track trade agreement working its way through Congress.President Barack Obama came to Nike headquarters in Washington County Friday morning to make his case for fast-tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The trade agreement would reduce tariffs and hold companies in a dozen Pacific Rim countries to higher labor standards.

Mark Parker, Nike president and chief executive officer, told the nearly 2,100 people gathered in Federer Platz that if the trade agreement is reached, the company could boost its manufacturing in the United States and possibly add about 10,000 jobs in the next decade.

President Obama spoke in numbered bullet points, making the case that TPP is not NAFTA, and that it would both raise wages for Vietnamese sneaker labor while lowering prices on goods imported into the USA, and that its provisions protecting the environment and children were enforceable

Some saw the choice of location as tin-eared. Obama and his supporters preferred to think of if it as counterintuitive, and the coming together of two big brands.

Obama noted that most of the critics of TPP are on the left. They say the pact would cause more American jobs to be outsourced abroad, as NAFTA did in the 1990s.

"Typically they are my friends from my party,” he said. “They're my fellow travelers on minimum wage, job training, clean energy. On every issue, they're right there with me. But with free trade, they're whopping on me.”

The pre-screened crowd of Nike employees and guests cheered signs of the more daring, more relaxed Obama.

He added that not having to run for re-election, he could choose to do things for one reason: “because I think it's good for American workers and the American people and the American economy.”

‘We can’t be afraid’

Several small Oregon businesses met with Obama beforehand to show off the types of goods that might benefit from being more easily exported. In his speech he called out Oregon Fruit Co., Sokol Blosser winery and Egg Press of Portland, which makes letterpress greeting cards.

Egg Press could add jobs to its staff of 20 if it were easier to export to Japan, Obama said.

The president took a moment to revel in good economic news, saying there were doom and gloom merchants when NAFTA, TARP and the Affordable Care Act same along. He said the doom and gloom merchants should “Go back and checks the statistics. Just saying.”

Obama sought to reassure his base. “If any agreement undercuts working families, I won't sign it,” he said, stressing that it is about helping not just corporations.

Obama also said the trade agreement would allow the United States to “level the playing field” for its companies, who many see as the best in the world.

“This century is built for us,” the President told the crowd. “It’s about innovation. It’s about dynamism and flexibility and entrepreneurship, and information and knowledge and science and research. That’s us. So we can’t be afraid of it; we’ve got to seize it.”

After about 15 minutes of handshakes, high-fives and selfies, Obama then headed back to a smaller Air Force One for a trip to South Dakota. It was the 50th state he has visited as president. The smaller plane was necessary because the South Dakota airport wasn’t large enough to handle the 747 version of Air Force One.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - President Obama praised Nike for its announcement Friday morning that it would add about 10,000 new jobs in the United States if a Pacific Rim trade pact is adopted.

Thinking ahead

Nike announced Thursday that it would bring back Made in the USA to its footwear line, pledging to “accelerate investment in advanced footwear manufacturing in the United States, if TPA (Trade Promotion Authority) is passed and a TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) agreement is finalized.”

The company said relief from footwear tariffs would allow them to develop “new advanced manufacturing methods and a domestic supply chain to support U.S.-based manufacturing.”

The company’s Flyknit line uses German knitting machines in Asia to weave shoe uppers from a single thread, instead of assembling them from multiple panels. The largely robotic process reduces the need for cheap labor in Asia, cuts material costs and shipping time to the U.S. market. The company also touts is as an advance in sustainability.

Nike said TPP would lead to the creation of “up to 10,000 manufacturing and engineering jobs in addition to thousands of construction jobs and up to 40,000 indirect supply chain and service jobs in the United States over the next decade.”

After the President’s speech, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Portland Democrat, said he didn’t know who had decided on Nike as a venue. “We just wanted him here, having him meet some of the small-business people. If you do it in a corporation that is home grown (unlike, say, California-headquartered Intel) you can show the Oregon experience. Nike is totally home grown and it’s built around the international, global economy.”

Blumenauer said Obama took on the critics head-on. “Doing it on this stage with this audience, is a way to have people look at it. If they look at it as a movie rather than as a snapshot it’s a very powerful story.”

Nike spokesperson Kate Meyers said that TPP would save Nike money by abolishing tariffs when importing its foreign-made shoes. It would then invest that money in advanced manufacturing in the United States.

“We’re in really early stages, what’s not known is the roll out,” Meyers said. “If TPP comes about we will be able to accelerate the investment in those jobs. It’ll be jobs in footwear, manufacturing and engineering jobs and ancillary jobs around construction.”

She said some tariffs on imported footwear date from the 1930s and were outdated.

Rossitza Wooster, an associate professor of economics at Portland State University, was impressed with the President’s speech. “Nike’s ’10,000 jobs’ number is a bit of a forward-looking statement,” she said by phone after watching the event on television. “No one knows how many higher-end jobs will come to the USA because of TPP. The bigger thing I heard was about infrastructure, where he was talking about writing the rules of trade laws.”

Wooster said it’s important for countries with economic and political power to think ahead and write the rules.

“You build a road and it carries commerce,” she said. “Like infrastructure, he’s thinking many decades into the future.”

COURTESY OF ELIZABETH SWAGER/OREGON FAIR TRADE CAMPAIGN - Less than 100 protesters lined up outside Nike's Washington County headquarters campus during the President's visit.

‘Very disappointing’

Dissenting voices took to social media and the streets, but in small numbers.

Elizabeth Swager, director of the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign, said about 70 people protested outside Nike’s campus and U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici’s office in Beaverton.

“Nike pledges to create 10,000 jobs. Well, we have heard time and time again corporations promise to create jobs when a trade deal is passed, and offshore them as soon as it’s enacted,” Swager said. “Nike’s new jobs are a drop in the bucket compared to the jobs we’re likely to lose if the TPP happens.”

Dan Clay, president of UFCW Local 555, the largest private sector union in Oregon, released a statement saying Obama’s push for the trade pact would actually hurt working families.

“It is very disappointing to see President Obama push a trade deal that will hurt hard-working Oregonian families,” Clay said. “To do so by visiting Nike, a company with a long history of sending jobs overseas and exploiting workers is a complete insult. Support from companies like Nike and Wal-Mart shows how terribly flawed this trade deal really is. At a time when we need good jobs and growing income, we are being told to believe in another flawed trade deal, and ignore the self-centered agendas of politicians and irresponsible corporations.”

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