Ahead of next week’s key meeting between the United States and 13 Asian and Australasian nations, more than 100 civil society groups told the Biden administration on Friday that transparent negotiations and increased public input are necessary to prevent an embryonic trade deal from being perceived as the latest iteration of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“TPP… was negotiated under the influence of hundreds of corporate advisers while the public and Congress were locked out.”
“We share your goal of creating a new model for U.S. trade policy that prioritizes the interests of working people, communities of color, the environment, consumers, and family farmers instead of just big corporations,” the coalition wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden. “The launch of your administration’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) may be a test case for what this model looks like and what it can achieve.”
According to the dozens of labor, environmental, human rights, and other advocacy organizations that signed the letter, “A transparent and participatory negotiating process is critical to ensuring the best possible outcomes from IPEF or any other future trade negotiations.” Signatories include the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Greenpeace USA, CodePink, Public Citizen, and Rethink Trade.
“We greatly appreciate your administration’s insistence that IPEF will not become another Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP),” the coalition told Biden, referring to the corporate-managed trade proposal opposed by progressives worldwide and never implemented despite the Obama administration’s attempt to fast-track its approval.
“One of the fundamental reasons why the TPP became so unpopular was that it was negotiated under the influence of hundreds of corporate advisers while the public and Congress were locked out,” states the letter. “Terms needed for the deal to benefit most Americans were traded away in favor of special protections for the corporate interests that had access.”
For IPEF negotiations to yield a deal that benefits working people and the environment, the coalition argued, the extant “corporate advisory system” must be replaced by an “on-the-record public process, including public hearings, to formulate U.S. positions and obtain comment on draft and final U.S. text proposals, as well as robust consultation and engagement with Congress throughout the process.”
The letter continues:
We ask that, if the U.S. moves forward with IPEF or other trade negotiations, the U.S. publish draft versions of its proposals and solicit public comment upon them prior to tabling them. IPEF negotiations should be announced in advance and include broad public stakeholder engagement and interactions with negotiators from each nation. U.S. proposals, other countries’ proposals, related materials, and any consolidated texts must also be quickly published after each negotiating round so that the public can review and comment on the latest proposals while there is still opportunity to make real changes.
“To achieve a needed overhaul of existing U.S. trade policy in IPEF and other international economic frameworks,” including Biden’s proposed Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity, “the processes for negotiating a potential agreement must be transparent and participatory—the complete opposite of the opaque and corporate-dominated processes that produced trade agreements under previous administrations,” the coalition added.
IPEF was criticized by numerous researchers and civil society representatives from all 13 countries involved—the U.S., Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam—before and after Biden unveiled it on May 23.
The Trade Justice Education Fund, for instance, rebuked the White House for partnering with nations that have “abysmal labor rights records,” singling out Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Others expressed concerns that IPEF is likely to reproduce the injustices of earlier corporate-managed trade agreements and vowed to fight against harmful provisions.
Workers in Southeast Asia “know that trade rules, written by corporations and wealthy countries, are a way to drive down wages and enable privatization of our public services, resources, and now even of our data,” said Annie Enriquez Geron, general secretary of the Public Services Labor Independent Confederation in the Philippines.
“Trade rules, written by corporations and wealthy countries, are a way to drive down wages and enable privatization.”
IPEF, said Kate Lappin, Asia Pacific regional secretary for Public Services International, “threatens to provide another space for multinational corporations to undermine democracy and establish global rules that put profits before people. Instead of creating new trade rules, countries should be focusing on removing trade rules that have proven to be barriers to global public health, access to vaccines, medicines and treatment, and [a] fair and equitable recovery.”
Parminder Jeet Singh from India’s Forum on Trade and Development argued that “regional and global economic partnership projects should aim at assisting national economies develop national autonomy and resilience, and develop international trade on their own terms, rather than become means to coerce less powerful countries to mortgage their economic independence to global economic powers and multinational companies.”
Indian civil society groups are “extremely worried that companies are demanding stronger intellectual property protection on medicines, investor-to-state dispute settlement, and other provisions from the very problematic Trans-Pacific Partnership,” said Singh. “IPEF should not contain any of these provisions.”
V.Narasimhan, general secretary of All India National Life Insurance Employees Federation, noted that “Indian workers and farmers have successfully fought against trade agreements that threaten our jobs, livelihoods, and public services.”
“We will do the same,” they added, “if the IPEF or any other trade agreement includes rules that benefit foreign investors and not the people of India.”
Jane Kelsey a retired law professor and trade justice campaigner with Aotearoa in New Zealand, echoed that sentiment.
If the Biden administration “can produce a real alternative that puts people and the planet front and center, and can convince our governments to genuinely support that new paradigm, we will work to make it succeed,” said Kelsey. “But if IPEF is just another way to promote the old corporate agenda, and a proxy for the U.S.’s geopolitical goals, we will campaign against it like we did with the TPP.”
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