Pact intended to lower trade barriers in the Pacific Rim region.
SAN DIEGO: Negotiators from the US and eight other Pacific Rim countries opened a round of talks Monday aimed at producing one of the most ambitious trade deals in decades amid growing criticism that the deliberations are shrouded in secrecy.
The US has been negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement for about three years. The talks include Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Mexico and Canada are expected to join, and Japan has expressed interest.
The pact is intended to lower trade barriers and spur economic growth in the Pacific Rim region.
Last week, two-thirds of House Democrats wrote to US Trade Representative Ron Kirk—the White House’s top trade official—complaining they were being left out of communications on the pact.
Rep. Darrell Issa, Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Kirk denied his request to observe the 13th round of talks, which run through July 10. Issa said the talks should not be “a secretive backroom negotiation.”
President Barack Obama said in November he was optimistic an agreement would be reached this year.
About 100 protestors peacefully demonstrated outside the California hotel where the talks opened. Critics said the talks threatened climate change laws, regulation of financial markets, labour rights and environmental and health protections.
“Let us say, ‘Open these negotiations to the people,’” said Democratic US Rep. Bob Filner. “Let’s stop this so-called free trade.”
US officials say they have been as open as they have ever been on a trade agreement. They say making public their negotiating positions would undercut their leverage in the talks with other countries.
Hundreds of critics and supporters who registered two weeks in advance had a chance to speak directly with negotiators in an exhibit hall. About 50 groups set up tables with signs that revealed sharply different and sometimes competing agendas. Among them were the Green Party, Rubber and Plastic Footwear Manufacturing Association and Democratic Socialists of America.
Jodie Griffin, an attorney for the Public Knowledge advocacy group, told a US negotiator that she worried that copyright protections in the pact would be too severe and harmful to consumers. She also said negotiating documents should be open to public view.
“We’re trying to be as transparent as possible,” responded Michael Masserman, executive director of export policy at the US Commerce Department. “Lots of sensitivities in the (intellectual property) negotiations.”
The San Diego round is not expected to produce a final agreement. The US delegation is led by Barbar Weisel, assistant US trade representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
©The Canadian Press