NEGOTIATORS from the United States and eight other Pacific Rim countries opened a round of talks aimed at producing one of the most ambitious trade deals in decades amid criticism that the deliberations are shrouded in secrecy.
The United States has been negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement for about three years.
The talks include Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Mexico and Canada are expected to join, and Japan has expressed interest.
Last week, two-thirds of House Democrats wrote to US Trade Representative Ron Kirk the White House's top trade official complaining they were being left out of the loop on the pact.
Rep Darrell Issa, Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sought unsuccessfully to observe the 13th round of talks, which run through July 10.
Issa said the talks should not be "a secretive backroom negotiation".
About 100 protesters peacefully demonstrated outside the downtown hotel where the talks opened on Monday.
Critics said the talks threatened climate change laws, regulation of financial markets, labor rights, and environmental and health protections. US officials insist they have been as open as they have ever been on a trade agreement. They say making public their negotiating positions would undercut their leverage in the talks with other countries.
President Barack Obama said in November he was optimistic an agreement would be reached this year, before Mexico and Canada were slated to join. Hundreds of critics and supporters who registered two weeks in advance had a chance to speak directly with negotiators in an exhibit hall.
About 50 groups set up tables with signs that revealed sharply different and sometimes competing agenda.
Among them were the Green Party, Rubber and Plastic Footwear Manufacturing Association, Democratic Socialists of America, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Teamsters labor union.
Jodie Griffin, an attorney for the Public Knowledge advocacy group, told a US negotiator that she worried that copyright protections in the pact would be too severe and harmful to consumers.
She also said negotiating documents should be open to public view. AP
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
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