USTR Froman: ‘We Have Had Over 1,200 Meetings With Congress On TPP’Published on 3 April 2014 @ 4:40 pm
By William New, Intellectual Property Watch
The United States Trade Representative’s office has held over 1,200 meetings with the US Congress about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, USTR Michael Froman told a congressional committee hearing on the US trade agenda today. This appears to counter criticism that the TPP talks have lacked transparency and non-industry input.
Froman told the House Ways and Means Committee hearing that the 12 Pacific-bordering nations in the TPP talks are trying to finish the deal this year.
But some in Congress, such as the top Democrat on the committee, have concerns, among them IPR-related issues.
“In 2014, we will work to conclude negotiations on the TPP agreement,” Froman said in his oral testimony, adding that TPP is being negotiated among 12 countries in the fastest growing region in the world representing nearly 40 percent of global GDP and a third of global trade.
“We are working to ensure that the final agreement will provide comprehensive market opening for goods and services; strong and enforceable labor and environmental standards; innovative commitments on intellectual property rights; groundbreaking new rules designed to ensure fair competition between State-owned enterprises and private companies; and for the first time, obligations that will address the issues of the digital economy,” he said. “We are also working to complete parallel negotiations with Japan to address longstanding issues related to autos, insurance, and other non-tariff measures.”
On the trade agenda, Froman also said they hope make “significant progress” this year on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership the US is negotiating with the European Union.
“And building on last year’s successful launch, we expect to make significant progress this year toward a T-TIP agreement with the European Union,” he said. “This will strengthen the world’s largest trade and investment relationship.”
Among the top priorities for the US are IP rights, Froman said.
“The United States is an innovative economy, and the Obama Administration is committed to protecting intellectual property (IP), which is vital to promoting and encouraging innovation and creativity,” he said. “Millions of American jobs rely on IP, and we will continue to use our trade agenda in 2014 to defend the IP rights of our creators and innovators while supporting the freedom of the Internet, encouraging the free flow of information across the digital world, and ensuring access to medicines, particularly by the poor in less developed economies.”
At the World Trade Organization, Froman said, the US is negotiating on environmental goods, services and information technology.
“At the WTO, we will capitalize on the success at the 9th Ministerial meeting in Bali last December,” he said. “In March, we notified Congress on our intent to enter into negotiations on an Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA) with the world’s largest traders in environmental goods, representing nearly 90 percent of this $1.4 trillion market. We will also move towards conclusion of negotiations on two major sectoral agreements: the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) and the expansion of the WTO Information Technology Agreement (ITA).”
Froman made a point that Congress has been included in the TPP negotiations.
“As we pursue this agenda, we will continue to consult with Congress and seek input from a wide range of advisors, stakeholders and the public. We have held over 1,200 meetings with Congress about TPP alone – and that doesn’t include the meetings we’ve had on T-TIP, TPA, AGOA or other trade initiatives,” he said. “Our Congressional partners preview our proposals and give us critical feedback every step of the way. We also ensure that any Member of Congress can review the negotiating text and has the opportunity to receive detailed briefings by our negotiators.” According to sources, members of Congress may view the text but not take copies, and congressional staff are not cleared to view the text.
Froman also pointed to a new effort by USTR to create a new public interest advisory committee.
“We are increasing the diversity of trade policy input we receive through the creation of the Public Interest Trade Advisory Committee (PITAC) to include stakeholders focused on consumer, public health and other public interest issues,” he said. “And, consistent with the statute, the Administration is soliciting qualified candidates to serve on the ITACs, our industry advisory committees, to ensure that they are representative of industry, agriculture, services and labor interests.”
Levin: “Major Challenges” for TPP
House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Sander Levin, the committee’s top Democrat, said in his statement at the hearing today that, “The TPP represents both major opportunities and major challenges.”
“The list of major outstanding issues in TPP is too long to recite or describe here, but includes currency manipulation, environmental protections and labor standards, access to medicines, food safety rules, state-owned enterprises, tobacco controls, cross-border data flows and privacy protections, and investment issues,” Levin said. The hearing was intended to address some of these issues.
The opportunities, he said, stem from the “dramatic economic growth in Asian Pacific nations.” But the negotiations are at a “critical stage,” he said, and “the outcome of a long list of fundamental issues remains uncertain.”
“Some of these challenges reflect that this is the most complicated multi-party negotiation in 20 years in terms of the issues involved and the number of countries that individually present negotiating challenges,” said Levin.
For example, he said, Japan has “the third largest economy in the world with an export-dependent and notoriously closed market.”
Levin said the US-Korea bilateral agreement was “hard – and remains hard with a number of disturbing implementation issues outstanding, and in some cases growing. Japan will be harder.”
He also highlighted other difficulties, such as Vietnam, “a communist country with a long-standing command economy and a very poor record on labor rights and the rule of law. The Colombia agreement was hard – and remains hard with a deeply troubling record of compliance with the Labor Action Plan. Vietnam will be harder. ” And, he added, Brunei, Malaysia, and Mexico also present “challenges” with respect to the implementation of the labor commitments.
William New may be reached at email@example.com.