Negotiations on a Pacific trade deal are taking place right now in San Diego, and hundreds of representatives of business, trade association and citizen watchdog groups are present and pushing for their interests in a deal that many have charged has been kept too secret.
This meeting — which began July 2 and ends July 10 — marks the 13th round of negotiations on the so-called Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a deal that is aimed at lowering trade barriers and boosting economic growth in the region. The United States has been involved in negotiations since 2010 and the partnership includes Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Mexico and Canada were recently invited to join, and Japan has shown interest. A deal is not expected at the end of this round, but the Obama administration has said it hopes an agreement will be finalized by the end of the year.
While negotiations have been kept relatively quiet, a slew of businesses and lobbyists have worked to keep tabs on the progress of various issues involved in the deal, ranging from intellectual property protections to financial services regulations to tariffs affecting U.S. retail companies.
Since 2011, 154 lobbying firms or organizations have lobbied a federal agency on behalf of 132 clients regarding the TPP; 105 of those lobbying clients have spent more than $100,000 lobbying the federal government. Among those, 53 clients have spent more than $500,000 in that time period. At the top of the list: the Chamber of Commerce, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, Podesta Group, Inc., General Electric, AT&T and Pfizer.
Hundreds of critics and supporters of the trade deal registered two weeks before the San Diego event to speak directly with negotiators. Among the groups with representation, according to newspaper accounts and the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, are the Chamber of Commerce, Public Citizen, 3M, AFL-CIO, the Center for American Progress, the International Association of Machinists, the Green Party, Rubber and Plastic Footwear Manufacturing Association, Democratic Socialists of America, and the Teamsters union.
Many major businesses are rooting for the deal, but critics of the negotiations have contended it could threaten climate change laws, regulation of financial markets, labor rights and environmental and health protections, U.S. jobs, copyright laws and more.
But among the top criticisms of the negotiations has been that they have been too secretive. California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has complained about an ongoing secrecy of the negotiations and was miffed he didn’t get an invitation to the San Diego event. (According to the Huffington Post, Issa in May leaked a draft of the intellectual property chapter of the deal on his website as part of his protest of the lack of access granted to Congress and nonprofit groups.)
Rep. Bob Filner, a San Diego Democrat, also charged the trade representatives of too much secrecy: “Let us say open these negotiations to the people,’’ he told a crowd protesting the negotiations this past week. “Let’s stop this so-called free trade.’’
Last week, before the meeting began, more than 130 House Democrats sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk saying the public and Congress need more information about the negotiations. The Democrats, led by Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and George Miller of California, wrote: “Under the current U.S. trade advisory system, representatives from over 600 business interests have … access to both USTR negotiators and the negotiating text. However, American small business, civil society, and other interests who have a direct and long-term interest in the outcome of these negotiations have little meaningful input.”
The letter reiterates demands for transparency in trade negotiations called for in May by legislation introduced by Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, chairman of the Finance Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness.
Wyden has served in the Senate since 1996, having previously spent 15 years in the House. Popular back home for his tenacity, his top contributor since 2008 (he is up for reelection in 2016) has been Nike Inc., according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Nike is headquartered near Beaverton, Ore. and has been seeking to bar tariffs imposed on U.S.-designed footwear that is imported from Asia.
Nike is the world’s largest athletic footwear and apparel brand and manufactures an estimated 39 percent of its footwear in Vietnam. It’s not the only one; Columbia Sportswear Co., also based in Oregon, last year manufactured about 92 percent of its footwear from China and Vietnam.
Matthew Priest, president of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America, told the Portland Business Journal in April that his organization wants the trade negotiators to ensure the footwear imports will be duty free. Priest said U.S. footwear brands paid $250 million in duties on shoes imported from the eight countries originally involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks $249 million came from Vietnamese-made shoes.
(Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America hired Sorini, Samet, & Associates, LLC to lobby on TPP, paying them $30,000 in the first quarter of 2012 and $50,000 in 2011. Among that firm’s lobbyists is Andrew Samet, who served from 1997 to 2000 as Deputy Under Secretary for International Affairs. Meanwhile, Nike spent about $270,000 on lobbying on a variety of issues in 2011, including on TPP. )
New Balance Athletic Shoe, by the way, has the opposite view. It is the last major manufacturer of athletic shoes in the U.S. and the largest employer in central Maine, still maintaining three factories in the state. Among benefactors of New Balance’s financial aide has been Maine senator Olympia Snowe, a high ranking, moderate Republican on the Senate Finance Committee who is retiring at the end of this session. During a Senate Finance hearing in March, Snowe grilled Kirk about the pending trade deal and told him the importance of the footwear manufacturing jobs in her home state.
New Balance also has contributed to the 2012 campaign of Maine Rep. Michael Michaud, a Democrat with a fierce independent streak who has been a strong supporter of overhauling U.S. trade laws. He is co-chair of the House Trade Working Group and a critic of free trade deals.
Among Wyden’s other top five campaign contributors are a couple top-paying lobbying organizations that also are keeping closely attuned to TPP negotiations: Google Inc. and Intel Corporation. Wyden, along with Issa, has had a strong relationship with Silicon Valley companies related to their opposition of the Stop Online Piracy Act and its Senate counterpart, the Protect IP Act.
Also highly involved in lobbying on the trade deal are automakers and drug manufacturers, as well as organizations like National Retail Federation, Kraft Foods Global Inc., and the Motion Picture Association.
The following is a list of 35 of the 134 lobbying clients who paid more than $1 million on lobbying in 2011-2012 and reported lobbying a federal agency on the Trans Pacific Partnership.
Written by Christina L. Lyons, copyright 2012 CQ Press, an Imprint of SAGE Publications, Inc.