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Eight Leading Members of Congress Request Access to TPP Negotiations in Leesburg

On Tuesday eight Members of Congress sent a letter to Ambassador Ron Kirk, head of USTR, requesting observer access to the upcoming TPP negotiations in Leesburg, VA which will take place September 6 –15, 2012.

The letter follows one in June in which 132 members of the House of Representatives called on the Obama Administration to release the text of the TPP and engage Congress on negotiating priorites.  Having received no response, these eight members have followed up to request direct congressional oversight of the TPP negotiations:

“…so as to ensure that there is ample opportunity for Congress to have a clear understanding of and input on critical policies that will have broad ramifications for years to come, we are requesting that you facility our ability to observe the TPP negotiations directly.”

The signatories are not only leaders within Congress, but have also shown compelling experience and initiative relating to several of the issues most at stake in the TPP, including labor, access to medicines, copyright, food safety and environmental protection, among others.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) is co-chair of the Democratic Steering and Policy committee. She is also a ranking member on the Labor, Health, Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee,
which presides over funding related to the agricultural economy and food safety regulation and programs, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A champion of food safety issues, Rep. DeLauro co-founded the Congressional Food Safety Caucus, which works to ensure food safety and minimize food-borne illness.

Rep. George Miller (D-CA) is the Senior Democrat of the House Education and Workforce Committee, and was appointed by Minority Leader Rep. Pelosi to chair the House Democratic Policy committee. Rep. Miller has worked tirelessly to advocate for the environment. Between 1991 and 1994, he chaired the House Natural Resources Committee, remaining as senior Democrat to the committee until 2000. He is a member of several caucuses, including the Congressional Wildlife Refuge Caucus, the House International Conservation Caucus, and the Sustainable Energy and Environment Caucus. Rep. Miller also works on labor issues as a member of the Congressional Labor and Working Families Caucus, the International Workers Rights Caucus, and the Congressional Steel Caucus.

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) is the most senior member of the House of Representatives, having been elected in 1965. During the 110th and 111th Congress, he chaired the House Committee on the Judiciary, and remains the ranking democratic member. In addition to providing oversight over the Department of Justice (including the FBI) and Federal Courts, the committee also has jurisdiction over copyright, civil rights, consumer protection and constitutional issues.

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) is long-time community and public interest advocate who began her career as a community organizer, working to force big pharmaceutical companies to open their markets to generic competition for anti-arthritic medications. Rep. Edwards has lobbied
for fair campaign finance laws, first at Public Citizen and later as the executive director of Center for a New Democracy.  She serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the Science and Technology committee, and the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.

Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-IL) serves the Democratic Party in a variety of leadership roles, including as Chief Deputy Whip and a member of the Steering and Policy Committee. She was appointed by Minority Leader Pelosi to serve in the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, where she is the ranking Democrat on the Oversight committee. Rep. Schakowsky initiated the creation of the Seniors Task Force in the 111th Congress (of which she is co-chair), working on social security, Medicare, and affordable prescription drug issues. She also serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee, on the Subcommittee of Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, the Subcommittee on Health, and the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Rep. Schakowsky is chair of the International Workers Rights Caucus, and belongs to the Trade Working Group, the Progressive Caucus and the Manufacturing Caucus. She has long advocated for consumer rights issues - between 1985 and 1990, she served as director of the State Council of Senior Citizen, working towards lower prescription costs and other benefits for seniors. In 1969, she organized her community to pressure supermarkets to include freshness dates on their products.

Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-WV)
is currently ranking member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He served on the House Natural Resources Committee for 34 years, serving as chairman from 2007 – 2010. Rep. Rahall has worked tirelessly on environmental issues during his career. He has long opposed mountaintop removal, and spear-headed the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program, which provides assistance to counteract health, safety and environmental problems caused by antiquated mine sites. He has been recognized for his environmental advocacy and has won several awards, including the 1997 Citizens Coal Council Award, the 1990 “Friend of the Earth award,” Sierra Club’s 1988 “Seneca Award” for outstanding environmental stewardship, and The Ansel Adams Award from the Wilderness society in 2004, among others.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) serves in leadership positions on several important committees. He is a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and ranking member of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee. He is also a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, and sits on the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee, as well as the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee. Rep. DeFazio serves on the House Committee on Homeland Security, and several caucuses, including the International Conservation Caucus, the Renewable Energy and Efficiency Caucus, and the Rural Caucus, among others. 

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) is the longest-serving woman in the House (and the second longest-serving woman ever) and holds several prestigious leadership roles. She serves as the senior Democratic woman on the House Appropriations Committee, and was also appointed to the House Budget Committee. She is the only Democrat to serve on both committees. She also serves on the Defense, Agriculture and Transportation/Housing and Urban Development Subcommittees.   

Prior to the TPP round in San Diego last month, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) also requested access to the negotiations and was denied by USTR. Despite this inexplicable marginalization of elected Members of Congress and the unprecedented secrecy of the TPP negotiation text, Kirk has called the TPP negotiations “the most engaged and transparent process [possible].”  While sidelining Congress, USTR has indeed embraced "engagement" and "transparency" with approximately 600 official U.S. "advisors," 84% of them explicitly representing corporate interests.  While elected officials clamor to get a foot in the door in Leesburg, this predominantly corporate group has been given unfettered access to the TPP text and direct access to U.S. negotiators.  

If USTR chooses to shut out the eight leading Representatives above, who have been elected to oversee programs as important as the FDA and as sensitive as the FBI, while consulting with unelected execs from Wal-Mart, Cargill, and Halliburton (all of which have official trade advisors), whose interests should we expect the resulting TPP to promote?  

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Al Jazeera Asks: Will Colombia's Protesting Workers Be Heard?

This week, as we mark 100 days since the implementation of the Colombia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, volatile protests against General Motors indicate that working conditions have not improved for Colombian workers. Colombia remains the most dangerous place in the world for union organizers, and seven union leaders have been killed this year.

Watch Al-Jazeera's video on the GM workers, who have stictched their mouths shut in a hunger strike, here.


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Victory for Public Health in Australia, But Big Tobacco Threatens Counterattack through Trade Pacts

Last week, public health advocates rejoiced when Australia’s High Court (its Supreme Court equivalent) upheld the country’s landmark tobacco control “plain packaging” laws against a legal attack from Big Tobacco.  Phillip Morris, British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco, and Japan Tobacco had sued the government, arguing that the new requirement to sell cigarettes packages with large health warnings rather than brand trademarks would constitute an uncompensated taking of their intellectual property rights. Ultimately, the court ruled that the public health law did not violate the constitution of Australia, where smoking kills 15,000 people each year. Starting on December 1st, all cigarettes and tobacco products will be sold in plain, brand-free packages with graphic health warnings. 

Australian Attorney-General Nicolos Roxon welcomed the ruling as “a watershed moment for tobacco control around the world.”

Despite this legal victory for public health at Australia’s highest court, unfortunate provisions in trade and investment pacts provide Big Tobacco with additional avenues to attack Australia’s plain packaging policies in foreign tribunals. Internationally, the law already faces attack at both the World Trade Organization (WTO) and through an obscure investment treaty.

Only hours after the ruling, Ukraine filed a formal complaint against the law at the WTO, arguing that the plain packaging law violates Australia’s commitment under the WTO and requesting the establishment of a formal disputes panel. Honduras and the Dominican Republic have also filed complaints. When asked if he thought the big tobacco companies were behind Ukraine's decision to launch its WTO case, Australia’s Trade Minister Craig Emerson said that he was "not aware of tobacco being a big industry in Ukraine, so one would wonder why it would have a big interest in this".

Australia’s plain packaging is also being challenged by tobacco company Philip Morris under the Hong-Kong-Australia bilateral investment treaty (BIT). The U.S. company incorporated a subsidiary in Hong Kong in order to launch the attack through this obscure treaty. A tribunal of three private sector lawyers constituted under the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) will conduct the arbitration to decide whether the laws have had a significant negative impact on Philip Morris’ investment in Australia.

The extreme investor rights contained in the BIT pose particular threats to the case for plain packaging policies. According to Dr. Kyla Tienhaara, a trade law expert at Australian National University (ANU), “The investor-state dispute under the Hong Kong treaty is particularly concerning for supporters of the legislation. Unlike the WTO, there’s no exception under the treaty for public health measures. And unlike in the Australian Constitution, 'expropriation' (the act of a government taking private property) is defined very broadly.”

These cases, which demonstrate the danger of allowing investors a supranational avenue to attack public interest laws, have strengthened Australia’s commitment to not allow foreign investors to sue its government before panels of international trade arbitrators. Australia has refused to be subjected to investor-state dispute settlement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is being pushed by multinational companies including Philip Morris.  (The TPP's leaked investment chapter, meanwhile, reveals that the pact would require all other countries, including the US, to allow foreign investors to sue their national governments).  

Australia is facing pressure domestically in response to this rejection of investor-state suits in TPP. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) has launched a “Right to Sue” campaign, and has sent a letter to the Prime Minister urging the government to consider including ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) in future FTAs. (You can find a good analysis of the misleading claims of the campaign and letter here.)

Through progressive tobacco regulation policies, Australia has set an important precedent in placing a higher value on domestic public health policies over foreign investor rights. Unfortunately, trade and investment pacts provide Big Tobacco with second and third avenues to subvert the will of the Australian people and its highest court. The good news is that other countries will inevitably follow Australia’s lead on tobacco control policies.  Hopefully they will also follow Australia's prudent decision to reject extreme foreign investor rights in trade pacts like the TPP.  

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