5 December 2013, 19:46

Exclusive: GOP Reps Reichert, Boustany: trust us, TPP will be awesome

By Justin Mitchell

WASHINGTON (VOR)– If you've never heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, don't feel bad.

The massive free trade deal involves upwards of a dozen countries stretching from Japan to Peru. It has the potential to drastically remake how imports, exports, and development get done across the world. It has been described as "NAFTA on steroids." But it has also been kept very secret.

Closed door negotiations have been happening for years. Congress members are barred from speaking about its contents. This creates an odd situation when they have to sell it to the public.

In exclusive comments to VOR, Republican Representatives David Reichert (WA) and Charles Boustany (LA) tried to stress that public input would be a part of any trade deal, but only through Congressional intermediaries. Also, the full text of the deal would not be available until after the conclusion of secret negotiations.

At an event in Washington, D.C., the two Representatives, who recently formed a bipartisan Friends of the Trans-Pacific Partnership caucus to push for the deal—presented their case for why it had to happen.

VOR’s Justin Mitchell has more:

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Congressman David Reichert comes from a different background than most politicians: “I was a cop for 33 years before I came to Congress,” he said Thursday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC.

At a morning event, Reichert said that his background—including stints as a hostage negotiator and SWAT team commander—could be helpful in pushing his new policy crusade, the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP: “You got to know when to negotiate and when to kick the door in,” he said. “And you know, when it comes to trade, we might have to kick the door in somewhere along the line here.”

Most people don't even know the TPP exists. Most of those who do, don't know what it says. Its negotiations have taken place behind closed doors for the last three years, with no official text yet released. Activists have strongly criticized one leaked chapter on intellectual property laws as a business-friendly circumvention of current copyright law. Progressive economists say it will favor the wealthy over the middle and lower classes.

Reichert and his friends want to change that impression…sort of.

Reichert was joined by fellow Republican Rep Charles Boustany of Louisiana. They unveiled their brand-new bi-partisan Friends of the Trans Pacific Partnership Caucus, created with Democrats Gregory Meeks of New York and Ron Kind of Wisconsin.

The caucus' goal is clear: to make the Trans Pacific Partnership a reality.

“We have to embark on a very strong educational process to get this done,” Charles Boustany said.

But here's the thing: he is talking about a strong educational process aimed at members of Congress and the Obama Administration, not the public.

During the one-hour event, neither Reichert nor Boustany mentioned the public.

When asked about that by VOR, Reichert brought up the business community in Washington state.

“Oh—the public,” Reichert said. “We should have mentioned that. The public is also included in this. When I go back to my district, we have a business advisory committee. We’re constantly talking about trade in Washington state with businesses small and large. They come back to visit me in Washington, D.C. They’re engaged in the process.”

To check on this, VOR called the Seattle Chamber of Commerce. We spoke with Eric Schinfeld, the president of the Washington Council on International Trade.

“We have a great relationship with Congressman Reichert,” Schinfeld said. “He’s been a real leader on trade issues.”

The relationship is mutually beneficial.

“He understands that at least 40 percent of all the jobs in Washington state are tied to international trade, and so it’s important for him to be a leader on these issues,” Schinfeld said.

In an email, Seattle Times financial columnist Jon Talton told me most of the business community in Washington feels the same way.

But what about people who aren't in business?

Alisa A. Simmons is the National Field Director for Public Citizens' Global Trade Watch, a consumer advocacy group that fights the TPP. When asked about the Congressman’s “educational process,” Simmons said “I think it’s downright pathetic.”

Simmons says the fact that people have to be educated about the TPP is absurd.

“After all that’s going on, the public and the press are still completely locked out,” she said. “And it’s only recently that members of Congress, who have the power to do this…somemembers of Congress have received some level of access to the text.”

VOR asked Charles Boustany about this at the CSIS event.

“There’s no deal until the deal is complete, so we’ll just have to wait and see,” he told VOR.

Boustany added that until the deal is done, people will have to rely on their congressional representatives passing constituent concerns along to the U.S. Trade Representative.

“Members of Congress are expressing concerns to us about particular issues they have, because we’re soliciting those concerns,” he said. “And then we’re passing those concerns on to USTR [the U.S. Trade Representative].”

Alisa Simmons says not everyone has such indirect access.

“Over 600 corporations have representatives who have been labeled as ‘trade advisors,’ who have seen the text, they’re able to comment on it, they’re able to sit in on some of the negotiations,” she said.

For her, that's the key to understanding the true nature of the TPP.

“Trade agreements are being used as a way for corporations to get what they couldn’t get through Congress or governments around the world in the light of day,” Simmons said.

She said the public would never be allowed to look at the deal until after it was signed into law.

When asked about this assertion, David Reichert's office denied it was true. They stressed that there would be time for public vetting of the law after negotiations are finished.

But still, even though Reichert said he might have to kick in the door, many of the TPP's opponents are sensing that they need to do the kicking.

VOR

justin mitchell, TPP, Trans-Pacific Partnership, David Reichert , Charles Boustany , Eric Schinfeld, Alisa A. Simmons , Public Citizens' Global Trade Watch, Politics
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