Nike fights to lower duties on foreign-made shoes; Freedom to Marry lobbies to repeal DOMA

February 17, 2013

Nike is amping up lobbying efforts in Washington, this month hiring Alpine Group to lobby on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement that could eliminate tariffs on shoes made abroad. The agreement was reached in 2011 between the United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam — a major exporter of shoes and clothing — and the terms are still being negotiated among businesses, government leaders and unions. The pact is meant to reduce trade barriers, and one of its proposed provisions would remove tariffs, or taxes on goods imported from abroad. Nike, which is based in Beaverton, Ore., supports doing away with the tariffs.

“Lower duties would enable Nike to reinvest savings in innovation and maintaining our global competitiveness, which results in high-paying jobs in the U.S.,” said Nike spokesman Greg Rossiter. “The question is why high duties should be maintained at a high cost to U.S. consumers and businesses.”

But others are fighting to keep the tariffs in place. New Balance, the Boston-based athletic shoe maker, wants to maintain tariffs on shoes from Vietnam in order to protect the jobs of 1,350 New Balance workers who make footwear in the United States. A quarter of the shoes the company sells in North America are made in its U.S. manufacturing facilities.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership “represents a major potential problem for our ability to make shoes here,” said New Balance spokesman Matt LeBretton. “We’re the last company to still make athletic shoes in this country ... Our chief concern is Vietnam, the fastest-growing producer of footwear. They’re already winning in the footwear space. They don’t need additional market access.”

Freedom to Marry Action, the marriage equality group based in New York, hired Holland & Knight this month to lobby for legislation that would grant same-sex couples the same benefits of marriage under federal law as heterosexual couples.

The group has worked with Holland & Knight lobbyist Kathryn Lehman for the past two years, said Jo Deutsch, director of federal relations for Freedom to Marry. But because they worked with Lehman through a separate consulting firm they no longer contract with, the registration was not listed in Senate records until this month, when Freedom to Marry hired Lehman directly.

Freedom to Marry is pushing for the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, which was introduced in the House and Senate in the last Congress but did not pass. The legislation, which is expected to be re-introduced in the current Congress by its previous sponsors — Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) — would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the legal union between a man and a woman.

Deutsch said Lehman’s standing as a Republican lobbyist, paired with her own background on the Democratic side, would make the effort more bipartisan.

“Working together, we could talk to a lot more Congress members,” Deutsch said. “We have really worked on a very solid bipartisan lobbying effort to repeal DOMA and pass the Respect For Marriage Act.”

Catherine Ho covers law and lobbying for Capital Business, which she joined in 2011. She was previously a reporter at the Daily Journal in Los Angeles, covering LA civil courts and labor and employment law.
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