Trans-Pacific Trade Negotiations Marred by Secrecy

For Immediate Release
Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Trans-Pacific Trade Negotiations Marred by Secrecy

Statement by Arthur Stamoulis, Executive Director, Citizens Trade Campaign

Citizens Trade Campaign’s executive director, Arthur Stamoulis, released the following statement in response to today’s hearing on the Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement held by the Ways & Means Subcommittee on Trade:

There’s lots of talk about the Trans-Pacific trade deal setting new norms for international trade, but what’s still unclear is what Congress believes those norms should be. The lack of a clear roadmap leaves negotiators vulnerable to pressure from Wall Street lobbyists and others who put narrow self-interest ahead of the broader needs of the American public.

Despite negotiations entering their third year, today’s hearing leaves us nowhere closer to understanding what’s actually being negotiated for and negotiated away.  The U.S. Trade Representative hasn’t heeded calls for transparency made by civil society groups around the world and some Democratic Members of Congress, and as a result, the U.S. proposals on a wide range of key issues still remain secretive.  Americans are already angry that Congress isn’t doing enough to address unemployment, and without greater transparency, I suspect most will come to view the Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement as just another Wall Street-driven job killer.

The outcome of these negotiations clearly matters.  Among the group of countries currently at the table, the Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement is already poised to become a significant pact in its own right.  As a so-called docking agreement that other Pacific Rim nations will join over time, it takes on even over broader significance.  The world cannot afford for this to become a “NAFTA of the Pacific,” and if corporate lobbyists are the primary constituency with access to the negotiating documents and negotiators as things move forward, there’s little reason to expect these negotiations will deliver anything different.

One of the most crucial issues facing an Asia-Pacific trade pact is the question of labor rights.  The Trans-Pacific pact’s labor provisions will play a large role in determining whether jobs at home and human rights abroad are adequately protected, yet we still don’t know how the United States proposes to tackle this issue.  The lack of forthrightness makes real public participation extremely difficult.

If the Trans-Pacific trade agreement is to become the sort of 21st Century, standard-setting pact that actually lifts living standards rather than accelerating the global race to the bottom, then Congress will need to assert its constitutionally-mandated authority to determine what those 21st Century standards should be.  Already, we’re hearing calls from the U.S. Trade Representative for Fast Track to be resurrected.  Congress should reject that request out-of-hand, and instead establish a sound policymaking procedure that ensures that Congressionally-established trade negotiating objectives are met before any new trade pact can be signed.

Congress needs to recognize that the mood of the American public has changed, and it should abandon any fantasy that something as big and all-encompassing as a Pacific Rim trade deal can somehow be snuck past voters.  People simply will not put up any longer with trade policy that offshores manufacturing and service sector jobs, reduces the tax base and puts a downward pressure on the wages and benefits in the jobs that are left.  If elected officials are serious about creating a new national consensus around international trade, they cannot afford to wait on giving the public a voice until the Trans-Pacific negotiations are over.

Citizens Trade Campaign is a national coalition of labor, environmental, family farm, consumer, faith and social justice organizations working together to improve international trade policy.