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No IPEF Trade Pillar is Better Than One that Fails to Deliver “Worker-Centered” Trade

Washington, D.C. – Trade ministers from the United States and 13 countries are expected to announce progress in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) ministerial meeting today in San Francisco, but Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and officials from other IPEF countries have signaled that the ministers will not announce conclusion of IPEF’s Trade Pillar.  

In response, Melinda St. Louis, Global Trade Watch director at Public Citizen, issued the following statement:

“If the cake’s not baked yet, don’t eat it. 

“The Biden administration did the right thing by not concluding the IPEF Trade Pillar this week. Better to miss this deadline than to ink a deal that fails to live up to the administration’s promise of ‘worker-centered’ trade, especially when rules governing 40% of the global economy are on the line. 

“The goal of a final IPEF text by the APEC meeting was always ambitious — and, honestly, arbitrary. It would have been easy to sign off on a deal that did not meet the bar for binding and enforceable labor and environmental standards, and move on. But by extending the talks beyond the target completion date, the administration indicates it’s serious about delivering ‘worker-centered’ trade. And by resisting calls for an ‘early harvest,’ the administration maintains bargaining chips to use later on to secure binding labor and environmental standards. 

“From the outset, the administration has described IPEF as a departure from past FTAs, and from what we know of the Trade Pillar text so far, it differs from the highly unpopular Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in important ways. IPEF does not include the damaging investment rules that allowed corporations to challenge democratic public interest policies before private tribunals or extremist intellectual property rules that expand pharmaceutical monopolies that harm access to medicines. And it does not contain the pharmaceutical monopoly provisions that in past FTAs, created barriers to affordable medicines. 

“As a result, the administration has been walking a tightrope with IPEF. Corporations that were used to manipulating trade agreements to thwart regulation were already complaining loudly, but Big Tech really hit the ceiling when it became clear the administration is not pursuing controversial ‘digital trade’ proposals — a move applauded by policymakers and civil society who have been working to hold Big Tech accountable domestically through privacy, anti-discrimination, and anti-monopoly policies. 

“It’s time for corporate lobbyists to get the message and stand down. The old model of corporate-dominated trade is dead. And if a trade deal doesn’t meet standards to protect workers and the environment, it’s not worth concluding.”