In a move designed to placate an increasingly loud chorus of detractors, the U.S. government will now raise the number of trade advisors it consults with regard to outstanding treaty negotiations.
Michael Froman, United States Trade Representative, said that a new public advisory panel will be created to increase the input from various groups interested in environmental protection, labor conditions and the transparency of ongoing trade discussions. Froman made it clear that this move is in response to gathering criticism of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. He said, “Skeptics need to assess what a world without TPP would mean. The world without TPP is a world with lower labor standards, weaker environmental protections and fewer opportunities for job growth.”
The criticism of the TPP comes from several quarters. Some believe the discussions, of great economic and political significance, have been conducted outside the public eye, frustrating the vigilance necessary for the negotiations to be truly democratic. Groups like Public Citizen and the Communication Worker’s for America angrily criticized the TPP’s possible impact on employment in the U.S. and complained of a lack of transparency regarding the negotiation process. Melinda St. Louis, international campaign director for Public Citizen, declaimed, “Regulating Wall Street is what we need. It’s time to flush the TPP. Protecting workers is what we need. It’s time to flush the TPP.”
Kenneth Peres, chief economist for the Communication Worker’s For America, added to the pile of criticism. He said, “It’s going to erode our wages, just like other free trade pacts have.”
In an attempt to demonstrate the secretive nature of TPP discussions, WikiLeaks managed to get a hold of the draft of the environmental section at the Salt Lake City summit and began publishing excerpts shortly thereafter. The New York Times has reported that, if the WikiLeaks allegations are true, it would be in violation of the 2007 “May 10 Agreement,” signed into law by then-President George W. Bush, which requires all free trade agreements the U.S. participates in to include binding environmental strictures.
Others have argued that the TPP negotiations are being hastily rushed to an ill-considered conclusion. Tom Donahue, head of the US Chamber of Commerce, said, “We’ve worked [to back the TPP] harder than anybody. But we’re at the same time saying this is going to be a great deal when it gets done. Let’s just not rush it. Speed is important but not without content. We’re willing to slow it down a month, or two or three to get the content right.”
Donahue emphasized the historic importance and sweeping impact of the TPP. “A massive percentage of the world’s [future] explosion in growth and trade is going to happen in the Pacific Rim. We’re concerned that in the excitement to get that deal people may compromise a bit too much.”
As the conclusion of the TPP negotiations draws closer to a conclusion, disputes over its wisdom have grown more heated. With billions of dollars at stake, representatives from every quarter of the fashion industry has been weighing in with impassioned positions. The TPP is a sweeping treaty that includes the U.S., Vietnam, Singapore, Australia, Peru, Brunei, New Zealand, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, Canada and Japan. The eleven countries involved in the negotiations sent $15.1 billion worth of apparel and textile imports to the U.S. last year. And the group of nations comprise more than 40 percent of the global economy.
Some critics of the TPP remain unassured. Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, said, “The public has zero access to negotiating texts – even though corporations and the countries with whom the U.S. is negotiating do – and is therefore handcuffed in making meaningful suggestions.”