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New Chilean President Doubts Significance of TPP

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Once interpreted by trade experts as a foregone conclusion, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) now moves at a slow crawl to an uncertain settlement. And as a sign of the free trade agreement’s embattled negotiations, Chile’s new president has raised questions about the ultimate value of the deal to her country.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, in a speech recently delivered to her constituents, said she intends to make a grand pivot toward the further economic integration of Latin America, which would entail de-prioritizing the settlement of the TPP, which focuses on cementing relationships with Pacific Rim nations. As it stands, the TPP only includes three other nations from Latin America as official participants: Mexico, Columbia and Peru.

Speaking to El Mercurio, Chile’s Minister for External Relations, Heraldo Munoz, discussed improving relations specifically with Brazil and Argentina. “In my meeting with [USTR] Michael Froman, I expressed Chile’s position, which is to examine the content of the [TPP] negotiations with care, and to act transparently. We are going to consult with businesses, with civil society, so that these aren’t closed negotiations. In addition, I said to Froman that Chile has sensitive areas where we are not prepared to go beyond the FTA [free trade agreement] with the US. There are areas such as intellectual property, the regulation of state-owned companies, or the Central Bank, which are red lines for us.”

The Chilean government has also pointedly criticized the TPP discussions for their purported lack of transparency, a now familiar refrain from the agreement’s growing number of detractors. Andres Rebolledo, the new director of Chile’s Department of International Economic Relations, said, “In my meeting with [USTR] Michael Froman, I expressed Chile’s position, which is to examine the content of the [TPP] negotiations with care, and to act transparently. We are going to consult with businesses, with civil society, so that these aren’t closed negotiations. In addition, I said to Froman that Chile has sensitive areas where we are not prepared to go beyond the FTA [free trade agreement] with the US. There are areas such as intellectual property, the regulation of state-owned companies, or the Central Bank, which are red lines for us.”

Advocates of the TPP have taken notice of the criticisms and the U.S., in particular, has taken new measure to respond to them. In a move designed to placate an increasingly loud chorus of opponents, the U.S. government plans to 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 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 issue reached a fevered pitch after WikiLeaks, in an attempt to demonstrate the secretive nature of TPP discussions, 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.

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.

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