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Protesters Seek Openness at Pacific-Region Trade Pact Talks

Source: Businessweek.com

By Brian Wingfield on September 09, 2012

Dozens of groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and International Brotherhood of Teamsters met with negotiators during Pacific-region trade talks in Leesburg, Virginia, as protesters called for more openness in the discussions.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office conducted a “stakeholders’ forum” yesterday for interested groups at the latest round of negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an accord that would create the biggest trade zone in U.S. history.

About 150 representatives from some of those groups, including the Sierra Club, Public Citizen and the Communications Workers of America gathered on a grassy hillside after the event, where they called for proposals to be made public and chanted “Flush the TPP!”

“We want negotiators to release the text, to tell people what they’re proposing in our names,” Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of the Washington-based Citizens Trade Campaign and an organizer of the protest, said in an interview.

Transparency has become an issue of the Pacific-region talks, with consumer, labor and environmental groups siding with some U.S. lawmakers who want participants to make their positions public. U.S. officials have said they will hold a public comment period and congressional review after talks are complete, in line with their policy for recent trade deals including those with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.

Virginia Round

Representatives from Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the U.S. are meeting through Sept. 15 in Leesburg, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) from Washington. The group next month will be expanded to include Mexico and Canada.

The Trans-Pacific agreement is being drafted as a model for future pacts as President Barack Obama’s administration seeks to double U.S. exports by the end of 2014.

“The United States can generate even more exports and support good jobs by aggressively employing trade rules to pry open key Asia-Pacific markets,” according to a report to be released this week by Third-Way, a Washington-based think tank that participated in today’s event. The U.S. health-care and automotive industries are among those suited to sell to Asia’s growing market, it said.

The stakeholder gathering in Leesburg was the largest of its kind during the 14 rounds of the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, which the U.S. has participated in since 2010, Carol Guthrie, a USTR spokeswoman, said. The event allows participants to have “substantive, two-way discussions,” she said.

Group Presentations

Sixty groups, including the environmental organization Friends of the Earth and the American Automotive Policy Council, representing Ford Motor Co. (F), General Motors Co. (GM) and Chrysler Group LLC, made presentations at the event.

The auto industry group wants Japan to open its market to more international competition before being considered for participation in the trade pact. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, both Washington-based industry groups, want to ensure that the accord contains strong copyright and patent protections.

Other organizations participating in today’s event included the National Association of Manufacturers and the Cattle Council of Australia, which is seeking greater access to markets in Mexico and Canada when those nations join the talks.

Clinton Comments

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking yesterday at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, noted the “intense diplomacy” under way at the TPP talks.

“This free-trade agreement is central to America’s economic vision in Asia,” she said, according to a transcript provided by the State Department. “By reducing market distortions and leveling the playing field, the TPP will raise the bar for competition in a way that benefits every economy in the region, whether it is an active partner in the TPP or not.”

In a report to APEC leaders yesterday, trade ministers from the countries participating in the TPP talks said “We have made encouraging headway toward completion of the agreement.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Wingfield in Washington at bwingfield3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net

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