PORTLAND, Oregon—The question of “Why Nike?” that President Obama’s White House has been swatting away for days as it previewed a road trip to sell his trade package now has an answer: 10,000 new manufacturing jobs.
That’s how many the global sportswear giant said it would be able to create in the United States—but only if “fast-track” authority for trade agreements and the still-in-the-works Trans-Pacific Partnership are approved.
That Pacific trade deal, Nike said, would reduce tariffs sufficiently to make new “advanced manufacturing methods” in this country financially attractive. Making things domestically would let Nike bring them to market faster, the company said.
The formal announcement is to come Friday morning at Obama’s appearance at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, just outside Portland.
Nike has been fighting a reputation since the 1990s for using factories with sweatshop conditions in low-wage countries. Obama has been facing criticism for showcasing Nike since he announced the visit to the Oregon-based company late last month.
The administration has been pushing trade legislation for years. Soliciting input from businesses that both import and export has been a component of that, which is how Nike came to share its plan to make shoes in this country if the trade package came to fruition. It was that specificity in job numbers that led the White House to propose a presidential visit, according to a senior administration official.
Nike earned $12.4 billion in profits last year, with a profit margin of 45 percent, according to its 2014 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Despite this, it directly employs only 48,000 people around the world, and 26,000 in the United States. Another million people work for companies that contract with Nike to make its shoes and clothing—96 percent of all Nike shoes, for example, are made in Vietnam, China, and Indonesia.
Currently, the only products Nike makes in the United States are “Air-Sole” cushions and some plastic components that it sells to other manufacturers.
The fast-track trade authority Obama wants would limit Congress’s input on trade agreements to up-or-down votes. It’s something most presidents have enjoyed for decades, but the last such law expired in 2007. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, still being negotiated among the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations, would lower tariffs and other trade barriers among its signatories.
Republicans have historically supported trade while Democrats have been wary, and the same is true with this package. Obama needs about a dozen Democrats to pass the trade-promotion bill in the Senate and as many as several dozen Democrats in the House. The Senate could take its first floor vote on the proposal next week.