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With Pacific Rim Talks, Trade Enters New Era

“To compete effectively in international markets, enterprises and individuals need to be assured that they can move and maintain information and data across borders in a reliable and secure manner,” wrote the groups, among them the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Foreign Trade Council. “It is therefore critical that the TPP negotiations ensure that trade and investment rules promote, rather than inhibit, the growth of the digital economy.”

Data Flow Questioned

But consumer watchdog groups such as Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch have argued that such changes could result in foreign challenges to U.S. financial regulations, despite assurances from the administration that they would not.

Democratic Reps. Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Sander M. Levin of Michigan wrote to the administration this year, urging it to clarify that U.S. trade and investment treaties allow governments to limit the flow of capital in order to maintain financial stability.

And concerns extend beyond financial issues. House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who led the charge to shelve proposed Internet anti-piracy legislation that was debated earlier this year, have expressed concern that TPP negotiations could lead to the same kind of Internet intellectual property restrictions.

The TPP negotiations are expected to yield more robust protections of labor and environmental standards than previous deals, in part because they’re being negotiated by a Democratic president. But labor unions, which had been hoping that President Obama would bring a different approach to trade relations than George W. Bush did, have been lukewarm to the TPP talks so far.

“In some areas it’s better; in some areas it’s worse; it’s some areas it’s the same,” said Thea Lee, policy director and chief international economist at the AFL-CIO. “There were opportunities for some more-innovative thinking, but in too many respects the TPP looks quite similar to past trade deals, and that’s not a good thing.”

In their June letter, 132 Democrats noted that the TPP would “establish rules that extend far beyond traditional trade matters” and criticized the secrecy of the talks and their substance.

The TPP “represents an opportunity to create a new sustainable model that respects domestic policy choices and promotes economic development with shared prosperity,” the letter said. “Unfortunately, reports indicate the agreement is likely to repeat, rather than improve upon, the existing trade template.”

The letter suggests that winning House Democratic support for any deal, and for the fast-track trade negotiating authority the president will need to seal any deal, might be tougher than the White House would have thought.

But negotiators most likely face many more rounds of talks before the administration has to think about congressional approval.

A version of this article appeared in the July 10, 2012 print issue of CQ Today

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