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American Shipper

TPP negotiators meet in Hawaii to discuss trade deal details

The U.S. State Department Monday released its annual “Trafficking in Persons Report” for 2015, in which it removed Trans-Pacific Partnership member Malaysia from its list of the worst offenders in the areas of human trafficking and slavery.

   Foreign Trade Ministers from each of the 12 nations involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership began talks Tuesday in Maui, Hawaii and hope to have a finalized agreement by the end of the week, but this may be easier said than done.
   Although progress has been made, a wide variety of issues remain on the table for negotiators of the massive free trade agreement including protections for labor, the environment and human rights, disagreements over how to handle agricultural commodities like dairy and sugar, U.S. pharmaceutical rules, and the treatment of state-owned businesses. United States Trade Representative Michael Froman, Acting Deputy USTR Wendy Cutler, and Ambassador Darci Vetter, Chief Agricultural Negotiator for the USTR, traveled to in Hawaii for the negotiations, according to a statement from the USTR.
   If a deal is finalized this week, Trade Ministers will bring the agreement back to their individual constituencies for approval. President Obama in June signed Trade Promotion Authority into law, giving him the ability to negotiate trade deals like the TPP with limited congressional interference. Under TPA, Congress is allowed to set certain guidelines prior to negotiations, but can only vote “yes” or “no” on any deal without making any changes or amendments when it comes time to ratify.
   Obama has been an ardent supporter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, arguing that completing the sweeping deal with Japan, Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, Canada, Mexico, and Brunei Darussalam will set guidelines for shifting trade patterns that will take place with or without the United States’ input. The alternative, according to Obama and TPP supporters, would be to let other countries like China, who may have less stringent policies, lead the way and potentially make it more difficult for U.S. companies to compete in the global marketplace. China is not a member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which analysts estimate will cover as much as 40 percent of world trade.
   “And, if we are not there helping to shape the rules of the road, then U.S. businesses and U.S. workers are going to be cut out, because there’s a pretty big country there, called China, that is growing fast, has great gravitational pull and often operates with different sets of rules,” Obama said a few weeks before in an interview on the radio program “Marketplace.”
   “So, we started this negotiation, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, recognizing that a third of our recovery’s been driven by exports, that typically export industries pay higher wages, and if we want to make sure that we’re selling American products, American services into not just the next decade, but the next several decades, then we’ve got to have high standards, high labor protections, high environmental protections, in that part of the market, that part of the world, where we need to do business.”
   Opponents of the TPP, which include lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, say the deal will hurt the middle class and lead to increased outsourcing of jobs and lowered environmental and labor standards. Many liberal Democrats claim the TPP is no different than other recent trade deals, such as NAFTA, that they say have cost American jobs.
   The irony is that because the negotiations are held in private and the agreement text has been kept secret, save for a few sections that have been leaked by rogue groups like WikiLeaks, neither supporters nor opponents actually know exactly what it is they’re arguing for (or against). Only a select number of legislators and key staffers with high security clearance have been allowed to view the actual text of the deal.
   That fact notwithstanding, political newspaper The Hill has reported that TPP opponents have been rallying their forces in preparation to oppose the deal regardless of the final details. According to The Hill, “liberal Democrats in the House are teaming up with labor unions and other allies in an effort to thwart the TPP through social media campaigns, protests on and around Capitol Hill, and regular briefings with reporters.”
   These reports underscore difficulties the deal may face in garnering support in Congress once finalized, be it this week or in the coming months. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., has been leading the opposition in the House, and said the Obama administration is pushing too hard to finish the agreement at the Hawaii meetings.
   “It will be a tall order to get a deal finalized and signed by the end July,” DeLauro told reporters prior to the start of talks. “More importantly the agreement itself is riddled with problems,” she added, citing a laundry list of issues including the lack of safeguards against currency manipulation and guarantees for market access, as well as concerns regarding labor and environmental protections.
   “The issues are serious and need to be addressed and they won’t be addressed by the end of this month,” said DeLauro.
   Potentially complicating matters further, the U.S. State Department Monday released its annual “Trafficking in Persons Report” for 2015, in which it removed TPP participant Malaysia from its list of the worst offenders in the areas of human trafficking and slavery. The State Departement upgraded Malaysia (among others including Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan) from “Tier 3 Watch List” status to “Tier 2 Watch List” status, signifying that progress has been made toward correcting these issues, but that the country still has work to do.
   The move came in spite of loud opposition from human rights groups and nearly 180 U.S. legislators, and is important with regard to the TPP as Malaysia’s status as a notorious human rights offender was seen as a major barrier to its inclusion in the agreement. Reuters reported 160 House representatives and 18 senators earlier this month wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to keep the Southeast Asian nation on Tier 3, saying there was no justification for an upgrade and questioning whether the upgrade was motivated by a desire to keep Malaysia in the TPP.
   In a news briefing following the release of the report, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights Sarah Sewell attempted to dispel the idea that the Trans-Pacific Partnership had anything to do with Mayalsia’s 2015 ranking.
   “No, no, no,” Sewell said when asked if the upgrade was connected to Malaysia’s inclusion in the TPP. “The annual TIP Report reflects the State Department’s assessment of foreign government efforts during the reporting period to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons, established under U.S. law, under the TVPA. And those standards, as I articulated, are quite well spelled out in the legislation and those are the standards that are applied based on the factual reporting that is gathered during the course of the year…We remain concerned that low numbers of trafficking convictions in Malaysia is disproportionate to the scale of Malaysia’s human trafficking problem, and we also remain concerned with the restrictions on victims detained in government facilities and inadequate efforts to address pervasive passport retention by employers.”
   “Malaysia’s Tier 2 Watch List ranking indicates that there is still much room for improvement in the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, and we’re going to continue to encourage Malaysia and Malaysian officials and civil society to work together to make tangible progress to combat human trafficking, including the implementation of the amendments to the anti-trafficking law, the issuance of associated regulations in consultation with NGOs, and increased law enforcement efforts to convict traffickers,” noted Sewell.
   The advocacy group Human Rights Watch accused the State Department of prioritizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership over an accurate assessment of Malaysia’s behavior. “Malaysia’s record on stopping trafficking in persons is far from sufficient to justify this upgrade,” the organization said in a statement, according to Reuters. “This upgrade is more about the TPP and U.S. trade politics than anything Malaysia did to combat human trafficking.”

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