[Ip-health] Thomas B. Edsall in the New York Times: Free Trade Disagreement
thiru at keionline.org
Wed Feb 5 00:22:32 PST 2014
The Opinion Pages
OP-ED WRITERFree Trade Disagreement
FEB. 4, 2014
Thomas B. Edsall<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/opinion/editorialsandoped/oped/contributors/thomasbedsall/index.html>
The Obama administration's negotiations over the Trans-Pacific
a 12-nation trade agreement, have become a test of the compatibility of
globalization with the increasing expectation among democratized
populations of transparency in government.
The secrecy surrounding the current discussions, which began in
has angered traditional critics of free trade, including the AFL-CIO,
Public Citizen and the Sierra Club, but also some of its most ardent
backers, including Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, Darrell Issa, a
Republican congressman from California and Jagdish
a professor of law and economics at Columbia who is a leading
expert<http://bigthink.com/users/jagdishbhagwati>on world trade.
If successful, the TPP agreement would eliminate most remaining tariffs on
nearly $2 trillion in goods and services exchanged between the United
States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New
Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
The TPP negotiations, which in the United States pit international
corporations against organized labor, would go far beyond lowering tariffs,
countries to maintain compatible regulatory regimes, facilitate
corporate financial transactions, establish copyright and patent
protections to govern intellectual property rights and to safeguard foreign
"Characterizations of TPP as secretive, corporatist, undemocratic,
unconstitutional, anti-poor, pro-tobacco, job-killing, and a threat to
public health and safety have begun to stick and have energized opposition
from activists who suspect the agreement is an effort to circumvent the
domestic democratic process."
There is a strong historical
made that the economic benefits of free trade outweigh the
substantial costs. At the same time, free-trade agreements clearly do have
a corporatist dimension that is highly vulnerable to pressure from special
Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have voiced anger over their
limited access to negotiation proceedings. This anger began to boil over
almost two years ago, but it is still simmering.
On the Democratic side, Senator Wyden is the chairman of the Finance
Subcommittee on International Trade Customs and Global Competitiveness and a
supporter <http://www.cato.org/research/trade-immigration/congress> of past
free trade deals. He has voted for trade accords with Colombia, Korea,
Panama, Morocco, Australia and Chile. But in May 2012 Wyden took the floor
to attack the Obama
"The majority of Congress is being kept in the dark as to the substance of
the TPP negotiations, while representatives of U.S. corporations - like
Halliburton, Chevron, PHRMA, Comcast, and the Motion Picture Association of
America - are being consulted and made privy to details of the agreement.
As the Office of the USTR [U.S. Trade Representative] will tell you, the
President gives it broad power to keep information about the trade policies
it advances and negotiates, secret. Let me tell you, the USTR is making
full use of this authority."
That same month, Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee,unilaterally
had been the administration's secret position on intellectual property
rights, one of the most contentious subjects under negotiation. Issa wrote:
"At a time when the American people and Internet users all around the world
are rightfully wary of any closed-door negotiations that could adversely
impact their ability to freely and openly access the Internet, the Obama
Administration continues to pursue a secretive, closed-door negotiating
process for the Trans Pacific Partnership. I have decided to publish the
intellectual property rights chapter of TPP so that the public can provide
input to those negotiating this agreement, and to push this Administration
- and the federal government as a whole - to be open, transparent and
inclusive when it comes to international intellectual property rights
agreements that have potentially serious consequences for the Internet
Issa and other members of Congress have voiced concerns that the leaked
versions of TPP suggest that the United States is promoting internet
policies that Congress specifically rejected in January, 2012, when the
Stop Online Piracy Act.
More recently, warnings over the problems of trade negotiations, especially
over the lack of transparency, are coming from unexpected quarters.
the procedures governing the TPP negotiations as "ludicrous,"
noting that the secrecy surrounding the talks makes it difficult for the
administration to win critically important congressional approval of voting
on the TPP under special ("fast
rules barring any amendments or filibusters.
Joseph Stiglitz - an economist at Columbia and a
these pages - provided a
policies that he argues negotiators should explicitly reject,
mandates for the extensions of patent terms; mandates for the granting of
patents on surgical procedures; monopolies of 12 years on test data for
biologic damages; increased damages for infringement of patents and
copyrights; the requirement of life plus 70 years of copyright protection;
and mandates for excessive enforcement measures for digital information and
other restrictions on the dissemination of knowledge.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a leading non-profit advocate of open
access on the internet, argues <https://www.eff.org/issues/tpp> that under
a cloak of secrecy, the TPP,
"raises significant concerns about citizens' freedom of expression, due
process, innovation, the future of the Internet's global infrastructure,
and the right of sovereign nations to develop policies and laws that best
meet their domestic priorities. In sum, the TPP puts at risk some of the
most fundamental rights that enable access to knowledge for the world's
citizens. The US Trade Rep is pursuing a TPP agreement that will require
signatory counties to adopt heightened copyright protection that advances
the agenda of the U.S. entertainment and pharmaceutical industries agendas,
but omits the flexibilities and exceptions that protect Internet users and
A spokesperson for Michael Froman, the U.S. Trade
disputed the idea that there was excessive secrecy over trade negotiations
and contended that the administration has at least partially opened up
details of potential forthcoming agreements to members of Congress and key
"Members of Congress, as the people's representatives, and staff for our
Congressional committees of jurisdiction see and advise the Executive
Branch not only on U.S. proposals, but also negotiating text for the TPP.
Negotiators are available to walk Members and committee staff through that
text and have done so on request. Moreover, USTR regularly briefs
additional Congressional staff on the negotiations and U.S. approaches,
taking input there as well. All told, we've held more than 1,100 briefings
on Capitol Hill on TPP alone."
These efforts have not satisfied Wyden. On Feb. 4, the Oregon Senator sent
an email response to my inquiry:
"Right now, because of the shroud of secrecy, it is impossible for the
public to be informed of what's at stake in potential trade deals like the
TPP. This secrecy and lack of informed public input makes it difficult for
Congress to oversee and direct trade negotiations. There must be
fundamental changes to the USTR's approach to transparency and
Congressional consultation for the President's trade agenda to advance."
Froman's spokesperson, who declined to be identified by name, argued that
outside groups are able to present their views on trade negotiations
through a system of so-called "advisory committees."
The seemingly neutral term "advisory committee" serves to obfuscate the
immense influence of commercial interests with privileged access to the
formation of the trade policy of the United States.
The "advisory committees" within the U.S.T.R. are part of a three-level
Privileged corporate interests dominate both the first level and the
crucial third level.
At the first level, there is a
Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations, which includes 20
members who are management level personnel representing affected industries
or trade associations.
These business-oriented members far outweigh the input of the four labor
union presidents on the first level, as well as a representative of the
Environmental Defense Fund, Fred Krupp. The 20 corporate management
representatives on this level include business heavyweights like John
Surma, the former C.E.O. of U.S. Steel, and Robert Stevens, the executive
chairman of Lockheed Martin.
At the second level, there are four more advisory committees, including a
23-member labor committee made up of union presidents, a 19-member trade
and environment policy committee, an intergovernmental policy committee and
a committee on issues related to Africa.
The most important committees are in fact at the third level (ostensibly
the bottom) -- the 16 Industry Trade Advisory
agricultural advisory committees. These committees are the most
active <http://www.national-caaba.org/files/ncaaba/News/ITACs.pdf> and
involved in the minute details of trade agreements.
The range of influence of these 16 third level industry trade advisory
committees is reflected in their subject areas, running the gamut from
Aerospace Equipment to Chemicals, Pharmaceuticals, Health Science Products
and Services to Information and Communications Technologies, Intellectual
Property Rights, and Steel.
All 19 members of the steel advisory committee are, for example, industry
executives, nine of them steel corporation presidents, C.E.O.s or chairmen,
or a combination of the three. There are no labor, environmental or
consumer representatives on any of the 16 industrial advisory committees.
The third level advisory committees are not only entirely dominated by
industries seeking special advantage in trade negotiations, but also by
well-established corporations and trade associations with strong incentives
to support policies restricting the emergence of new competitors and
Interestingly, one of the few institutions equipped to shed light on trade
negotiations - the media - has cut back on coverage of trade issues.
Lori Wallach, director for the past two decades of Public Citizen's Global
Trade Watch, responded by email to my inquiry about news coverage of trade:
"During NAFTA/WTO, there were trade beat reporters at every major national
outlet and many of the bureaus of decent-sized regionals. But now trade is
one of, say, four or five subjects assigned to a reporter at a national
print outlet. The Wall Street Journal is the exception to the rule - they
have a full time trade beat reporter and so do Reuters and Bloomberg."
The diminished news coverage comes at a time when the scope of trade
agreements has grown tremendously. These agreements go well beyond
traditional market access issues of tariffs and quotas to become de facto
According to the World Trade Organization, regional trade agreements
<http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/region_e/scope_rta_e.htm>"tend to go
far beyond tariff-cutting exercises. They provide for increasingly complex
regulations governing intra-trade (e.g. with respect to standards,
safeguard provisions, customs administration, etc.) and they often also
provide for a preferential regulatory framework for mutual services trade.
The most sophisticated RTAs go beyond traditional trade policy mechanisms,
to include regional rules on investment, competition, environment and
On Sept. 8 last year, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts declared in a
speech <http://www.warren.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=234> to the
"Why are trade deals secret? I've heard people actually say that they have
to be secret because if the American people knew what was going on, they
would be opposed. Think about that."
Warren is right. Trade negotiations have, in fact, become so wide in scope,
with so many losers and winners, that negotiations cannot be conducted in
The case of trade reflects a larger shift in the balance of power. As
multinational or "stateless" capital diminishes the sovereignty of
individual countries, including the United States, and strengthens the
autonomy of international corporations, it weakens the already fragile
economic security of millions of out-of-work Americans. Their plight
appears to be unheeded in the world of "advisory committees." One can only
fear what comes next.
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