As it negotiates U.S. trade policy, including the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the upcoming E.U.-U.S. trade deal, the Obama administration seeks closed-door council from its network of 28 trade advisory committees. These committees are made up of U.S. citizens and ostensibly exist to represent the public’s interests in these negotiations.
But the advisory committees are heavily dominated by corporate interests and their related trade associations. Of the 566 committee members, 306 come from private industry and an additional 174 hail from trade associations. All told they represent 85% of the voices on the trade committees. They attend private meetings with administration officials and get access to documents that the public cannot see.
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In contrast there are only 31 labor representatives on the committees, 16 from NGOs, 25 from government, and 14 from academia, law and other organizations. Most of these non-business interests are concentrated in just a handful of committees. All but five labor representatives, for instance, sit on the Labor Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations and Trade Policy. Similarly, most government members serve on the Intergovernmental Policy Advisory Committee.
Fifteen of the remaining committees draw solely on private industry and trade associations. This concentration and segmentation of interests doesn’t exactly facilitate a diversity of viewpoints – labor talks to labor and business talks to business, but they rarely talk to each other.
To address these and other concerns, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman recently proposed changes to the advisory committee structure, including the addition of a new Public Interest Trade Advisory Council. The U.S. International Trade Administration is also encouraging labor unions and NGOs to apply for seats on the industry trade advisory committees.
The AFL-CIO is calling this development “very helpful.” Whether the reforms will satisfy the administration’s critics on Capitol Hill, who have long complained about the lack of transparency in the TPP negotiating process, is a different question.