State Legislators to Air TPP Worries in Meeting with USTR Officials

Posted: November 15, 2012

A group of state legislators is slated to meet today (Nov. 15) with Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis and Assistant USTR Barbara Weisel to reiterate their worries that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks could constrain state government policies aimed at protecting public health and the environment, according Maine State Rep. Sharon Treat, who helped organized the meeting.

In a Nov. 14 interview, Treat said the group requested the meeting as a follow-up to the July 5 letter that state legislators from all 50 states sent to USTR Ron Kirk. In that letter, the legislators urged greater transparency in the TPP talks and demanded that USTR exclude investor-state dispute settlement provisions from the final deal (Inside U.S. Trade, July 13).

The legislators plan to reiterate their opposition to the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism during the meeting with USTR officials, Treat said. In general, the legislators worry that an investor-state clause could undermine the ability of states to put in place regulations to promote public health, protect the environment, or achieve other objectives, Treat said. USTR and business groups strongly support inclusion of investor-state provisions.

During the meeting, the legislators will also stress their support for the U.S. push to ensure that the environmental and labor obligations in TPP are fully enforceable under normal dispute settlement rules, Treat said. She noted that the U.S. has faced opposition on enforceability from some TPP partners, and that it is important for the U.S. to hold firm in its demands.

In the area of public health, Treat said the legislators plan to flag their worries about a U.S. proposal on transparency rules for drug pricing and reimbursement programs that was tabled at the last TPP negotiating round in September. In particular, the legislators want to ensure that this proposal would not prevent states from making future changes to drug pricing regimes they implement, such as Medicaid, according to Treat.

She said the legislators will also communicate to USTR their position that the TPP should not include drug patent provisions that delay the introduction of generic medicines to the market, which she warned could raise prices for state health care programs like Medicaid.

The U.S. has tabled a drug patent proposal in TPP that would give brand-name pharmaceutical companies stronger patent protections if they apply for marketing approval for new drugs in other TPP countries soon after applying for initial approval in the U.S. But that proposal has faced opposition from other TPP countries, U.S. industry groups and civil society groups, and USTR has said it is internally discussing whether to revise it (Inside U.S. Trade, Sept. 14).

Finally, Treat said the legislators would likely press USTR on whether and when it plans to table a draft proposal on tobacco regulations that it has crafted but not yet put forth in the TPP talks.

The draft proposal, which the administration publicly described last May, would clarify that, notwithstanding other rules contained in the final deal, national health authorities may adopt regulations that impose origin-neutral, science-based restrictions on specific tobacco products or classes in order to safeguard public health (Inside U.S. Trade, May 25).

Treat called the USTR draft proposal a “good start,” but said that, in her view, it does not go far enough because it would not apply to state laws or regulations relating to tobacco control, such as those governing displays of tobacco products in convenience stores.

She said the issue of government procurement could also come up in the meeting with USTR, but signaled it would not be a focus since USTR has already committed that it would seek prior approval for states before offering up sub-federal procurement in the TPP talks.

That said, Treat acknowledged it is unclear if and when TPP partners will seek commitments on sub-federal procurement in the talks. The U.S. earlier this year proposed that TPP countries delay any discussion (read more here) on seeking sub-federal procurement commitments and instead focus on central government entities.

Treat welcomed USTR’s willingness to meet with the state legislators, who are in Washington this week to participate in a conference sponsored by the Progressive States Network. She said roughly a dozen state legislators have expressed interest in attending the meeting, but that some may not be able to come due to scheduling conflicts.

Arthur Stamoulis
Citizens Trade Campaign
(202) 494-8826

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