Comments Of Public Citizen On The Office Of The USTR's Request For Public Comment On The Committee Of Government Representatives On The Participation Of Civil Society In Connection With FTAA Negotiations

Public Citizen submits these comments in response to the Office of the United States Trade Representative's (USTR's) notice and request for public comment on the operation of the Committee of Government Representatives on the Participation of Civil Society (CGR) established in connection with the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) negotiations. 63 Fed. Reg. 40579 (July 29, 1998). The stated purpose of the CGR is to provide a mechanism for civil society -- consumer, environmental, labor and academic groups, as well as business groups -- to provide their views directly to the FTAA process so that their views can be taken into consideration.

Public Citizen strongly supports the establishment of procedures that allow the public to participate meaningfully.

in the international commercial policy-making process. To safeguard our principles of accountable democratic governance, the United States should work toward the systematic application of the openness and public participation requirements now existing in U.S. laws to the international arena. Indeed, the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act, the Government in the Sunshine Act, the Federal Advisory Committee Act, and other basic U.S. procedural guarantees have not been systematically respected as regards recent international commercial policy-making.

Now, USTR sets forth in this Federal Register notice its view that the CGR should establish an inclusive and transparent process that gives serious consideration to the view of a broad range of non-governmental groups. While paying lip service to the importance of public input, however, USTR shows disregard for the significant objections of both the American public and the U.S. Congress to the NAFTA/GATT-WTO model of economic globalization. As powerfully demonstrated by the recent defeat of Fast Track legislation, the American public wants a trade policy that respects democratic governance and the environmental protection, safe food, and fair wages that the public s voice in policy-making promotes. Yet, USTR has ignored this strong public sentiment and is attempting to expand the NAFTA model in its negotiations for the FTAA. Indeed, while asking for formal comments in this context, USTR has charged ahead with FTAA negotiations in a manner that pre-determines some important aspects of the actual, binding FTAA negotiations. For instance, USTR made a core FTAA-shaping decision at the Santiago Summit not to demand formal negotiating groups on labor, environmental, health, human rights, or other topics urged by non-governmental organizations representing citizens throughout the FTAA countries. Imminently, in September 1998 in Miami, the FTAA investment working group will meet to further work on an FTAA investment chapter which has been designated as an "early harvest" FTAA chapter to be based on NAFTA s Chapter 11 investment rules.

By making such decisions, USTR effectively preempts the possibility of meaningful public input in the FTAA s design. Public Citizen submits these comments to urge the United States to cease FTAA negotiations until such time as the important U.S. public debate about the future U.S. approach to international trade and investment rules and globalization can be conducted. USTR should not move ahead with decisions that will fundamentally shape the FTAA before Congress enacts legislation setting forth particular negotiating objectives and signaling Congressional approval for an appropriate alternative model to replace the NAFTA/GATT-WTO design. Not only is it unwise to continue negotiations on FTAA that may ultimately be rejected in the United States as out of touch with public and congressional objectives, it is unfair to our trading partners.

Moreover, proceeding along the current path makes a mockery of the public participation goals of the CGR. The American public has spoken through the continual polling data criticizing the status quo trade model and through Congress rejection in 1997 of a fast track to continue that status quo; yet USTR has shown no sign of hearing. If USTR is serious about involving the public in the FTAA process, negotiations on FTAA should cease.

The Interests of Public Citizen

Public Citizen, a not-for-profit lobbying and advocacy group founded by Ralph Nader in 1971, works in Congress, in courts, and in federal agencies for government reforms that serve the public interest. Public Citizen has approximately 120,000 supporters nationwide. Since its founding, Public Citizen has worked to strengthen the ability of citizens to participate in the domestic policy-making process and to assure public health and safety. For the past six years, Public Citizen has worked to educate the American public about the impact of international trade and economic globalization on our nation's health, safety, and environmental standards, democratic accountability, and policy-making procedures. Public Citizen submits these comments to urge USTR to take seriously its obligations to involve the public in the international policy-making process.

Fast Track Authority Denied

The United States is currently in the midst of a national debate about what type of model should be used to regulate international trade and investment. That debate ended in a log jam last November, when a majority of the U.S. House of Representatives withstood the political pressure of the business lobby, the Republican Congressional leadership, and the White House and refused to grant new trade authority to continue the same trade and investment policies. Falling 30 votes short of a majority, President Clinton and Speaker Gingrich decided to delay indefinitely the House fast track vote to avoid a more obvious defeat for the fast track form of trade authority and the model of past trade pacts it had wrought. (The fast track fight was often referred to as a referendum on NAFTA. Fast track s defeat in 1997, made possible in part by supporters of the 1993 NAFTA legislation switching their votes to oppose fast track, was widely interpreted as a recognition that NAFTA had failed to live up to its promises.)

Thus, Congress has not set forth any negotiating objectives for the Administration to follow, and there is no guarantee that Congress will sign off on the FTAA that USTR negotiates. Indeed, all indications are to the contrary. The denial of Fast Track signaled a rejection of the NAFTA-GATT model of economic globalization. The American people have seen that NAFTA and GATT weaken and undermine their jobs, wage levels, food safety standards, health and safety protections, environmental guarantees, and their very ability to participate effectively in the debate of such issues in a working democracy. Yet, in spite of this rejection of the current model, USTR is currently working to expand NAFTA to the entire western hemisphere as though Congress had passed the Fast Track legislation. In so doing, USTR is defying the will of Congress and the American people, and establishing the framework for an agreement that is ultimately unacceptable to the U.S. public.

In light of the fundamental way that USTR's current negotiating activities on FTAA foreclose a meaningful role for public input, it is difficult to take seriously the request for public comment on ensuring public input in the FTAA process. However, because the concept putatively underlying the CGR is of such critical importance, Public Citizen makes the following recommendations:

1) The CGR must pro-actively seek public input from consumer and environmental organizations and other representatives of civil society. Business representatives are already granted formal and informal access to negotiators; similar access should be afforded to other non-governmental organizations.

a) The CGR should arrange public, on-the-record meetings between citizen groups and negotiators, in accordance with the timetable of the negotiating groups. These meetings should occur in a variety of different regions to allow as much participation by citizen groups as possible.

b) In addition to these public, on-the-record meetings, the CGR should also solicit written comments from citizen groups, as many such organizations do not have the resources to travel to regional meetings.

c) The CGR should ensure that citizens have timely access to all relevant documents from the negotiations. These documents should be placed on the FTAA Homepage. Public Citizen strongly supports USTR's proposal that the comments that are received from civil society be placed on the FTAA Homepage. USTR's proposal allows both the public and negotiators to have immediate access to the relevant negotiating documents and the responsive comments. However, to ensure that such comments are considered thoroughly, we propose that an explanation of why comments were or were not incorporated, as required by the Administrative Procedure Act, also be published.

d) The CGR should work with government agencies, intergovernmental organizations, philanthropic foundations, and multilateral lending institutions to provide the resources to overcome the financial obstacles blocking citizen involvement in negotiations.

2) The CGR should extend the openness and public participation requirements of U.S. laws to the FTAA process. Procedural transparency and access to information should be the rule for the CGR's agenda, meetings, and reports as well as for the agenda, meetings, and reports of the other FTAA negotiating groups and the Trade Negotiations Committee.

a) The CGR should post its meeting timetables and agendas, and deadlines for citizen submissions on the FTAA Homepage. For those who do not have Internet access, CGR should establish a mailing list and Facsimile list, so that those without electronic access may also participate in the process.

b) The CGR should provide at least thirty days notice of the dates for each meeting and the deadlines for written submissions.

3) The CGR must not only provide the public with an opportunity to comment on the FTAA process but also ensure that the government negotiators seriously consider the comments they receive.

a) The CGR should regularly produce reports that synthesize the concerns and proposed policies of citizen groups. Based on those reports, the CGR should produce recommendations for the negotiating groups on steps that should be taken to address the issues raised by citizen groups. The reports and recommendations should be made public, and citizen groups should have the opportunity to comment on them. The reports, recommendations, and any comments should be posted on the FTAA Homepage.

b) The Trade Negotiations Committee should consider the report and recommendations of the CGR, and should explain why each recommendation was or was not adopted.

 

Respectfully submitted,

August 21, 1998