Trade deal draws lobbying from businesses, unions

Nike wants lower tariffs on foreign-made sneakers. Google is pushing for provisions that would protect Google Earth from being counterfeited abroad. The U.S. motion picture industry wants to grab more market share in Asian nations. Pharmaceutical companies are seeking a 12-year patent protection period on drugs treating Alzheimer’s, cancer and other major diseases.

Multinational corporations and trade associations across a wide spectrum of industries are pouring resources into shaping the language of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP — the proposed trade agreement between the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Japan has also entered negotiations.

The agreement, generally, would lower trade barriers between the countries and open up foreign markets to investors. Proponents say it would increase exports and American jobs. Critics say it could lead to more outsourcing of U.S. jobs, weaken collective bargaining rights and give corporations a leg up in disputes brought against them by moving the legal process from the courts to international panels made up of trade attorneys.

The 17th round of negotiations for the trade deal was held in Lima, Peru, last week, and Washington lobbyists representing a bevy of interest groups flew down to meet with trade representatives. Many are executing concurrent advocacy campaigns at home, sitting down with congressional staffers and agency representatives and drafting proposed language for the agreement.

At least 185 companies, associations, coalitions and other groups have lobbied on various parts of the deal, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is leading the charge, mentioning the TPP in 48 lobbying reports.

Chamber representatives were in Lima last week, meeting with trade negotiators from the United States and other nations, said Catherine Mellor, director for Asia at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The National Retail Federation, American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, Nike, Google, Pfizer, Wal-Mart and the Business Roundtable are also lining up to lobby on the agreement.

Opening markets

“Advocating for the TPP is one of our top priorities,” Mellor said. “We’ve had staff attend every TPP negotiation round for the last two years. We have our chamber leadership raise the importance of TPP at every meeting they have with the administration and members of Congress on trade. Any given day, we have eight policy staff and five communications staff working on how to get the message of the importance of TPP across.”

Trade experts say the widespread interest from the business community reflects the deal’s potentially far-reaching impact on corporations, jobs and consumers. Combined, the 12 countries make up 40 percent of the world’s economic output.

“Trade tends to get a lot of different constituencies motivated,” said John Veroneau, a former deputy U.S. Trade Representative who now leads the international trade practice at Covington & Burling. “There’s a lot of business interest in opening markets and assuring markets stay open, so there’s a pretty clear interest among global businesses to make sure these agreements are strong.”

Corporations are particularly interested in the pact’s language on protecting intellectual property rights abroad. Drug companies, for example, are pushing to make U.S. law — which grants drugmakers exclusive rights to data they collected during clinical trials for 12 years before a generic version can be developed — the standard across all countries that are part of TPP.

“There’s a strong interest from pharma, high tech companies and others in the IP community whose business models rely on strong patent protection,” said Veroneau, whose firm is advising companies on TPP-related issues including intellectual property provisions. “They see TPP as a key agreement to ensure that these countries and other countries who may later join TPP later are bound by strong IP provisions ... It’s seen as the beginning of something that’ll grow over time among Pacific countries.”

Lobby firms line up

The trade agreement is one of President Obama’s economic priorities; the president in his January State of the Union address said his administration plans to complete negotiations this year, as well as begin talks for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union. The TPP deal is being negotiated by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative with input from “stakeholders” from companies, trade associations and unions.

Efforts to influence the deal are funneling business to K Street. When Japan joined trade talks in April, the government of Japan was represented by Akin Gump lobbyist Scott Parven. In March, lobby firm Podesta Group announced a new unit, Global Solutions, led by former Mexico Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan. One of the unit’s objectives is to work on TPP and TTIP.

AFL-CIO, the umbrella organization representing 57 unions, has not taken an official stance on TPP, but is concerned with how the agreement could affect workers’ rights in all the participating countries. Previous U.S. free trade agreements have led to lower wages and safety standards and weakened collective bargaining power, said Celeste Drake, a trade policy specialist at AFL-CIO. In April, the union federation’s representatives met with staffers from Congress, the Labor Department and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and flew in workers from Peru, Mexico and Canada to talk about how their working conditions worsened after trade agreements were reached between their country and the United States.

“It’s not an inevitable outcome, but it has been our experience that the style of U.S. trade agreements has led to that,” Drake said. “We’re looking at the labor [portion of TPP] and making sure countries commit to enforce internationally recognized workers rights.”

Catherine Ho covers lobbying at The Washington Post. She previously worked at the LA Daily Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Detroit Free Press, the Wichita Eagle and the San Mateo County Times.

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