Washington Insider-- Wednesday

Those Secret Trade Talk Committees

Here's a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN's well-placed observer.

Minnesota U.S. District Court Asked to Waive Hearing on WOTUS Challenge

A hearing on challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Waters of the US (WOTUS) rule should be waived, and a decision on whether or not to dismiss the case should instead be decided based on briefs already filed, lawyers for both the plaintiffs and the government wrote in a July 15 letter to Judge Donovan Frank of the US District Court for the District of Minnesota.

"A hearing is set for August 5, 2016, but the parties jointly agree to waive argument and ask the Court that the motion be decided on the papers," attorneys for the Justice Department and a coalition of cattle ranchers, led by the Washington Cattlemen's Association, wrote. As another alternative, the parties suggested a hearing by phone.

"We have nothing to add to the briefs. A hearing will not strengthen our case," Reed Hopper, principal attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation that is representing the cattlemen's association, told Bloomberg BNA July 18.

The district court was to rule, following arguments, on a Justice Department petition to dismiss the lawsuit following a decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit which established itself as the proper venue to hear complaints against the rule.

The Minnesota US District Court must now decide whether to grant the joint request, or move forward with the planned hearing whether in person or by phone.

Lawyers for cattlemen's groups asked the district court June 7 to continue reviewing their complaint on grounds that it is not bound by the Sixth Circuit because it is within the jurisdiction of the Eighth Circuit.

TTIP More Important After Brexit Vote: Kerry

The importance of completing negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal between the U.S. and European Union (EU) is even greater following the UK's vote to leave the EU, known as Brexit, Secretary of State John Kerry said July 18 during a speech in Brussels.

The pact "has the ability to act as a counter to whatever negatives may or may not ultimately attach themselves to whatever construct is negotiated between the UK and Europe," he said in reference to TTIP.

"Mythology" surrounding the deal has resulted in significant opposition in Europe, Kerry said. "[I]t's our job to make sure that we adequately inform people about the ways in which the facts of the TTIP actually work for the people of Europe," he added.

Kerry said he intends to make the case for TTIP in several speeches in Europe over the coming months.

His remarks contrast with those of US Trade Rep. Michael Froman days earlier which asserted that TTIP could be less attractive without the UK in the European Union.

"What we're wrestling with is that the UK is a very significant part of the EU," and Brexit could make TTIP "less attractive," Froman said in a briefing with reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

"It's true that the economic size of the deal for the U.S. has gone down, but the value, particularly for Europe, has gone up," a USTR spokesman said when asked to square Kerry's comments with Froman's.

A spokesman for the European Commission (EC) delegation in Washington declined to comment on the divergent statements, directing questions to US officials.

Washington Insider: Those Secret Trade Talk Committees

The political conventions are well known hotbeds of claims and counter claims, and one of the fairly new features of this debate is the press "fact checker." Now, however, in a somewhat broader application of the press role, the Washington Post examined statements by anti-trade activists who criticize the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations as "top-secret," formed to "whisper in the ear of our trade negotiators."

In response, the Washington Post reviewed the formation, role and makeup of the US Trade Representative (USTR) advisory committees. The Post says that its examination of activist claims found the truth to be "mainly otherwise."

The advisory system is not new, but was actually created by Congress under the Trade Act of 1974 specifically to gather input from interested parties of U.S. trade negotiations, especially from private-sector experts, the Post says.

The Post notes that the advisory structure is divided into three tiers with Tier One serving as the President's Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations which advises on overall trade policy. The second tier's committees advise on general policy areas, specifically environment, labor and agriculture. Another 22 committees in Tier 3 are narrowly focused to provide technical advice for trade agreements with each focused on a specific industry.

The Post notes that advocate claims about the committee origins create a misleading impression that the 28 committees came together specifically for the drafting of TPP." Not so, the Post says.

Advocates are also critical of "how the administration forms and shapes the committees by committee charters, member selection and rules of access." In fact, under the law, committees are re-chartered at least once every four years "so by default the current committees would be renewed under the Obama administration."

"All of those committees were in existence before TPP and they have been working on things besides TPP in the past years," Jeffrey Schott, Peterson Institute for International Economics senior fellow and member of the Trade and Environment Policy Advisory Committee since 2003 told the Post.

Do the committee members "whisper in the ear" of negotiators? Advocates say this refers to the confidentiality of communications between the committee members and trade negotiators. But, while the direct meetings take place in private, committees still must submit written reports to Congress and provide written recommendations and advice that are made public. Still, direct communications with trade negotiators are typically shielded from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

Schott also told the Post that the industry committees depend on "people who have technical expertise." Tiers 1 and 2 are designed to focus on broader trade issues, and do not get into the same level of detail as Tier 3 committees, he said. In addition, he noted that the Tier-1 Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations Members has union representatives. So, while the groups include many from industries, manufacturing or service committees "because that's the composition of the third-tier committees," Schott said. "But that's not the case in the first and second tier, where there is more broad-based representatives from labor and there is a labor advisory committee."

For example, the Labor Advisory Committee is one of the second-tier committees, and includes labor representatives. There also are non-industry representatives on the first-tier committee that provides general guidance on trade policy. But Thea Lee, AFL-CIO deputy chief of staff, said that the system is still numerically dominated by industry representatives. USTR has opened up positions on the industry committees for representatives from labor and consumer groups, but the approval process has been slow, Lee said.

In response to criticisms about transparency and the large representation from industry representatives, USTR announced it would create a Public Interest Trade Advisory Committee to join Tier 2 committees. But the committee has not yet been developed.

Anti-trade advocates frequently criticize the fact that committee members provide advice and commentary in confidence, and that industry representatives make up a large number of the total committee membership may have some merit, the Post says, but argues that the law requires that industry expertise be sought. In addition, "there is a labor committee in the second tier, labor representatives in the first tier and that the industry groups have a narrow focus on technical advice."

Overall, the Post concludes the criticisms of the negotiating approach and structure are largely unsupported. Nevertheless, the politics of trade now have fairly deep toxic elements and seem are unlikely to change much ahead of the elections, if then—a dangerous challenge for US agriculture and the U.S. economy for the foreseeable future, Washington Insider believes.

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