[A2k] Washington Post: E-mails show cozy relationship between Obama trade negotiators and industry groups

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Sat Nov 30 01:47:25 PST 2013


http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2013/11/29/e-mails-show-cozy-relationship-between-obama-trade-negotiators-and-industry-groups/
The Switch <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch>E-mails show
cozy relationship between Obama trade negotiators and industry groups

   - BY TIMOTHY B. LEE <http://wapo.st/186EJva>
   -
   <timothy.lee at washpost.com?subject=Reader%20feedback%20for%20'E-mails%20show%20cozy%20relationship%20between%20Obama%20trade%20negotiators%20and%20industry%20groups'>
   - November 29 at 3:34 pm


On Tuesday, I wrote<http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2013/11/26/heres-why-obama-trade-negotiators-push-the-interests-of-hollywood-and-drug-companies/>
about
the close relationship between the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative,
which negotiates U.S. trade agreements, and industry groups that favor
stronger copyright and patent protections. New
e-mails<http://keionline.org/node/1833> released
by the advocacy group Knowledge Ecology International shine further light
on the close working relationship between Obama trade negotiators and K
Street lobbyists.

The e-mails were released in response to a freedom of information request
by IP-Watch this year. They don't provide much information about the
substance of USTR's conversations with industry groups. But there are
dozens of e-mails in which lobbyists from the pharmaceutical, medical
device, video game, biotechnology and recording industries arranged
meetings with senior USTR officials. The close relationship suggested by
the e-mails contrasts with the more arms-length relationship public
interest groups say they've experienced when they try to influence USTR
officials.

One name that comes up frequently in the e-mails is Ralph Ives, a lobbyist
for AdvaMed, a trade group representing medical device makers. In Tuesday's
story, I quoted an AdvaMed spokeswoman, who said that "neither AdvaMed nor
Ives has ever provided USTR comments on a provision of the TPP IP chapter."

The e-mails, which cover a period from 2009 to 2013, demonstrate regular
contact between Ives and Jared Ragland, whose title in 2011 was director,
Office of Intellectual Property and Innovation at USTR. On two occasions,
on March 16, 2011, and Feb. 14, 2012, Ragland e-mailed Ives seeking advice.
On two other occasions, on Sept. 20, 2011, and March 16, 2012, Ives
e-mailed Ragland asking for a meeting.

The e-mails also show that Ives participated in a Feb. 1 conference call
between USTR officials and industry lobbyists arranged by Medtronic
lobbyist Trevor Gunn. On Jan. 22, in an e-mail with the subject line "TPP
IP Issues," Gunn wrote that USTR official Probir Mehta "has confirmed a
meeting for the following individuals, representing ITAC3 on TPP IP
issues." ITAC3 is a USTR advisory committee representing pharmaceutical and
medical device companies. Ives was one of six individuals listed as
participating in the meeting, and subsequent e-mails suggested he joined
the meeting by phone.

On Wednesday, an AdvaMed spokeswoman told me that the intellectual property
chapter of the TPP was not discussed at any of these meetings. She noted
that "Ragland was the lead negotiator for the transparency issues and
procedural fairness provision of the TPP." She says that those issues, not
IP issues, were the focus of Ives's conversations with Ragland.

As for the "TPP IP issues" e-mail, AdvaMed says that Gunn is simply in the
habit of using "TPP IP issues" as a shorthand for all of the issues that he
works on, which also includes non-IP issues of interest to medical device
companies. The AdvaMed spokeswoman, after consulting with Ives, said that
despite the meeting's title, intellectual property issues did not come up
during that Feb. 1 conference call.

The documents suggest that USTR interacts differently with industry
insiders seeking to influence its policymaking than it does with public
interest groups seeking to do the same. The e-mails contain numerous
references to "cleared advisors," individuals to whom USTR has granted
access to confidential documents. Numerous companies and industry groups
have had their personnel named as cleared advisers, and many of the
meetings described in the e-mails were limited to cleared advisers so that
confidential matters could be discussed.

In contrast, few public interest groups have been named as cleared
advisers. Indeed, a USTR spokeswoman couldn't name any examples of
non-industry public interest advocates who have been cleared to advise USTR
on IP issues. That severely limits the ability of public interest groups to
have productive conversations with USTR officials, some of those groups
say. "I can walk up to the front of the Department of Commerce building and
tell them everything I think," says Sherwin Siy, an attorney at the
advocacy group Public Knowledge. "It doesn't mean a thing unless we know
what's in the text."

Another difference: the e-mails show that USTR doesn't just take meetings
with industry advocates, the agency also regularly solicits their advice.
As we've seen, Ragland asked Ives for advice on two occasions. On another
occasion, July 24, 2012, USTR's Stanford McCoy e-mailed Jay Taylor of the
pharmaceutical industry group PhRMA: "Can we possibly have a cleared
adviser meeting Thursday or Friday of this week? I’d like to get up to
speed on your concerns about medpharm and get a fresh start on the way
forward."

Peter Maybarduk, who works on pharmaceutical issues at the advocacy group
Public Citizen, says that he never gets e-mails like that from USTR. "We
don't get any request for our take on this or that. If we ask to meet with
Probir [Mehta of the USTR's Office of Intellectual Property and Innovation]
for example, he'll meet with us. We'll have a conversation. Those
conversations have gotten better over time. But it's a complex diplomatic
exercise, it's not like a frank exchange of information about what is
actually happening."

To be sure, there's nothing wrong with government trade negotiators
soliciting the advice of industry groups. Those groups have valuable
information that should be taken into account as the government formulates
its negotiating priorities. But the e-mails released this week underscore
the gap between the government's close working relationship with industry
groups and the difficulty public interest groups have had in influencing
USTR's work on copyright and patent issues. Industry lobbyists appear to
enjoy much easier access to both confidential TPP documents and the
government officials who are involved in drafting them. Public interest
groups have become frustrated that they do not have the same opportunity to
make their case to senior policymakers at USTR.



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