Hey, NY Times, Want Fairness in Pacific Trade Deal? Then Advocates Must Get Seat at the Table

A recent editorial in the The New York Times argued that the Trans Pacific Partnership should strengthen environmental and labor regulations. But that won't happen unless we change the process.
TPP Stakeholders Meeting. Photo by Global Trade Watch.

A stakeholders briefing for the TPP round held in Leesburg, Virginia. Photo by Global Trade Watch / Flickr.

On Tuesday, The New York Times stepped more deeply into the debate about the Trans Pacific Partnership, an international trade deal that holds the potential to significantly alter economies around the Pacific Rim.

If we want environmental and social justice to be a part of the agreement, advocates must have a seat at the table.

The editorial took no firm or clear position on the TPP, but instead described the aspirations of U.S. negotiators and then listed a bunch of things that "a good agreement" would do, like "strengthen labor and environmental protections," and "balance the interests of consumers and creators of intellectual property."

The problem is that the process through which the TPP is currently being negotiated makes that outcome impossible. Representatives from more then 600 corporations have a seat at the table, but—with the exceptions of a few major unions—civil society groups are completely excluded. That means that all the people who would demand the labor, environmental, and consumer protections the Times board hopes for won't be present to make those demands.

"They've daylighted what would be an ideal outcome," said Kristen Beifus of the Washington Fair Trade Coalition. "However, if you look at the current process, there's no way to get there from here."

The editorial also neglected to mention the near-total secrecy in which the deal is being negotiated, causing the Electronic Frontier Foundation to wonder, "How Can the New York Times Endorse an Agreement the Public Can't Read?"

"There are a lot of people for whom the Times editorial may be their first encounter with the TPP," said Parker Higgins, an activist who works for the EFF. "And to have it be something that says 'Here's what a good agreement would look like' without noting that it's secret—I'm afraid that people won't look further."

Whatever its failings, the Times' policy wish list shines a light on the problem with the secretive process currently being used to negotiate the TPP. If we want strong environmental and labor regulations to be a part of any upcoming agreement, advocates for those issues must have a seat at the table.

If they don't, then musings like this week's editorial are merely wishful thinking.