A federal judge in Seattle ordered U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky and Commerce Secretary William Daley to add environmentalists to their advisory committees for forestry and paper products or stop convening those panels.
The Tuesday order by Judge Barbara Rothstein of the District Court for the Western District of Washington will force the USTR's office to cancel an advisory committee meeting scheduled for next Wednesday unless its adds an environmentalist to one of its panels by then. A month ago, Rothstein ruled that Daley and Barshefsky were violating federal law by restricting access to industry advisory committees.
Environmentalists applauded Rothstein's ruling. They said it would help make U.S. trade policy more open to scrutiny, as demanded by thousands of protesters who flocked to Seattle last week as government officials from around the world attempted, without success, to begin new World Trade Organization negotiations.
"The fact that the judge has told [the government it] can't dillydally shows that these discussions can't take place in secret any more," said Paige Fischer, a lawyer with the Pacific Environment and Resources Center, a plaintiff in the lawsuit that triggered the ruling. "Trade is not just the domain of industry groups."
The American Forest & Paper Association, which belongs to the advisory committees along with Weyerhauser Co., International Paper Co. and other industry leaders, played down the ruling's impact.
"I think the environmentalists' impression is very naive," said Michael Klein, a spokesman for the association. "They think official policy is crafted in these meetings, and that's not true."
"We haven't decided how to respond," said Thomas Tripp, a spokesman for the USTR. The Commerce Department had no immediate comment.
Bolstered by the ruling, environmental groups are ready to file another lawsuit that could force the government to include them in an advisory group for chemical industry trade negotiations.