A group of US lawmakers is calling on trade officials to ensure that ongoing talks on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) do not lead to lower duties on US footwear imports.

Such a move, they claim, would undermine and possibly even spell the end for the American footwear industry, which has already seen domestic production fall by nearly 75% between 1999 and 2007 and more than 28,000 jobs lost from factory closures.

Led by Mike Michaud, chairman of the House Trade Working Group, the lawmakers have sent a letter to US Trade Representative Ron Kirk urging that current footwear tariff levels are retained.

"The footwear industry has been gutted by foreign imports, including those from Vietnam," said Michaud. "Our trade negotiators need to make sure that this trade deal doesn't off-shore what's left of our shoe manufacturers."

Nine Pacific Rim nations are formally involved in the multi-lateral trade group, whose latest round of talks took place in Chicago last week. As well as the US and Vietnam, participants also include Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia and Peru.

As with the US textile industry, Vietnam is seen as by far the biggest threat in the agreement.

In 1998, shoes from Vietnam represented less than 1% of American imports and the eighth largest US source of foreign shoes, the letter says. By 2007 that number had jumped to more than 5%, and Vietnam had become the second largest source of shoe imports to the US.

"A trade agreement that includes Vietnam, and that does not adequately protect domestic footwear manufacturers will only accelerate this trend."

Lawmakers also claim that current domestic tariff rates on imported footwear provide some countervailing measures against the "intolerable foreign labour conditions" that have allowed foreign manufacturers to undercut the domestic footwear producers.

"Higher duties help to level the playing field against Vietnam's state-owned enterprises and currency intervention policies," they continue, adding: "They also reduce the likelihood that China would trans-ship underpriced footwear product through Vietnam to the US."

Michaud adds: "With high unemployment, it's critical that our trade policy stops sending American jobs overseas and starts creating jobs on main street.

"Our trade negotiators must make this trade deal different than the NAFTA-style agreements that have undermined US manufacturing. Our economic recovery depends on it."

Separately, trade groups from 25 countries in Africa, South America, Central America and North America have also got together to call for caution in the textile talks concerning the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

In particular they are calling for a final agreement to include a yarn forward rule of origin, strengthened customs rules and special mechanisms to deal with state owned companies and state subsidised companies.