Friday, June 25, 2010

Quiz: Why Are Medicines Too Expensive and Cigarettes Too Cheap? Clue #1: The Trans Pacific Partnership (!?) Clue #2: You're Not Authorized to Know

It's 2005. Three southern Pacific countries including oil-rich Bunei get together with Chile and craft a trade agreement (on the edge of your seat yet?). The "P4"do not include standard U.S. trade rules that escalate drug prices and promote smoking. They do include some weak provisions on labor and the environment.

Fast forward to June 2010. No politician in the U.S. wants to run for reelection during a job-busting depression pushing for another free trade agreement. But tobacco giant Philip Morris, U.S.-based drug companies and other corporate interests think it would be just the thing.

So the U.S. invites the "P4"- Brunei Darussalam, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore - to join up in a Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) with the United States, Australia, Peru and Viet Nam. The second round of talks descends on San Francisco from June 14-18, aiming for a "high-quality, 21st century agreement that builds on the standards of P4, setting it up as a platform for a regional trade agreement." (The first round was in Melbourne in March; next meeting set for Brunei in October.)

With a trade agenda in flux and facing demands for a voice in trade policy from public health, labor, environmentalists and consumers, the U.S. Trade Representative invited the Center for Policy Analysis on Trade and Health (CPATH) and colleague "stakeholders" to come inside. Sort of. Here's what we found.

The week's activities raised questions about whether there may be new opportunities in this Administration for shifts in trade policy, on public health, labor, development and the environment. US staff were consistently available and insisting that the Administration wanted a new era of transparency and consultation. Further they signaled that they wanted better labor standards; they were open to concerns about tobacco control, though they also said that some members of Congress would be ready to put the brakes on.

CPATH organized a press conference on opening day, where SF Supervisor Eric Mar and public health advocates called for removing tobacco from the negotiating table. We got good coverage, as did events organized by labor and environmental groups, and PETA. (The SF Board of Supervisors passed Supv. Mar's related resolution on June 22.)

While stakeholder groups have convened at the site of trade negotiations in the past, this time we were afforded the use of facilities inside the meeting area, and the opportunity to make presentations. Highlights of the week included well-attended presentations to the delegates by CPATH, the AFL-CIO, Public Citizen, IFG and others.

CPATH's presentation to trade delegates took place on the evening before the final day of negotiations. We identified the threats to health and health care posed by uneven and unsustainable development; investor-state rules that empower corporations to bring trade charges against governments; and rules that undermine tobacco controls, access to affordable medicines, and commitments on health care and health-related services. Every delegation attended except for Vietnam. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

At the same time, the usual shroud of secrecy surrounded the details of the talks. Morning stakeholder "briefings" were held by the U.S. chief negotiator Barbara Weisel, which focused broadly on what topics were being discussed, without any information on the content. The delegates were using "bracketed text" as the basis for some of their deliberations, but the U.S. would not make this text available for us to see.

This points to a key difference in access and participation between "stakeholders" and official trade advisers; stakeholders may participate in broad discussions about topics under consideration, whereas official U.S. trade advisers review and comment on U.S. negotiating positions and actual text to be negotiated. CPATH's national Campaign for Public Health Representation has focused on bringing public health advisers onto U.S. trade advisory committees, to balance the overwhelming representation by corporate interests. HR 2293/S 1644 seek to change this imbalance legislatively.

This is the perfect time for a campaign to add Congressional co-sponsors to HR 2293/S 1644, which will in turn add public health and consumers to trade advisory committees.

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