Today, USTR held a public hearing on the United States-Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement (or, uh, USTPPFTA, hereafter referred to as "TPP" - you come up with a snarky acronym for this sucker!). This is a new FTA that the Bush administration proposed in November and December last year as a parting gift, which would involve the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei, Peru and Chile. Read Public Citizen's testimony on the TPP here (PDF).
A long list of folks testified at today's hearing, offering little in the way of anything surprising or unexpected. The most interesting comments came right at the beginning, when a USTR official made two points:
- Initial TPP negotiations were scheduled to begin on March 30th in Singapore. However, because USTR appointee Ron Kirk has yet to be confirmed, and because he will be undertaking a "review and reevaluation of overall FTA policy" (not an exact quote but close), this date is indefinitely postponed.
- Today's hearing was to be a "different exercise than that which we've been doing for the past few years," and one of the things USTR wanted to discuss was whether the current FTA template is "adequate and effective" for moving forward and if it is an appropriate means for meeting U.S. policy goals.
It was refreshing to hear questions raised by USTR themselves about the appropriateness of the current model of trade agreement, a big-picture message we've been hammering on for years. Whether actual meaningful debates ensue is a different story, of course - certainly the corporate presenters at today's hearing avoided any sort of questioning of the model - but it's a step in the right direction.
Other fun things: a spokesman for the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council trying to make a bizarre argument that offshoring of U.S. production might increase if we don't enter into NAFTA-style FTAs with southeast Asian countries. (Yeah, I don't know either.) A spokesman for the Coalition of Service Industries saying investor protections and especially the investor-state mechanism are "crucial," and saying that a "broad definition of investment" is needed as well as making investor protections retroactive. I could almost hear him salivating with glee as he read off that little wish list. Same with representatives from NAM and GE asking for "WTO-plus" commitments on intellectual property.
On the flip side, the AFL's Jeff Vogt made a nice case that fixing labor standards in NAFTA-style FTAs doesn't get the job done, and fixing investment, procurement, services and other chapters is necessary as well. Here's hoping that "review and reevaluation of overall FTA policy" takes that talking point into account.