(This is an item from our new blog: Unofficial Sources.)
The Office of the United States Trade Representative, the agency responsible for negotiating two massive upcoming trade deals, is being led by former lobbyists for corporations that stand to benefit from the deals, according to disclosure forms obtained by The Intercept.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a proposed free trade accord between the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries; the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a similar agreement between the U.S. and the E.U.
The Obama administration is pushing hard to complete both deals, which it says will increase U.S. trade opportunities. Critics say the deals will provide corporate interests with sweeping powers to challenge banking and environmental regulations.
Here is information on three major figures in the Trade Representative’s office, gleaned from their disclosure forms:
— Sharon Bomer Lauritsen, the assistant U.S. trade representative for agricultural affairs, recently lobbied for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a trade group for biotech companies. Lauritsen’s financial disclosure form shows she made $320,193 working to influence “state, federal and international governments” on biotech patent and intellectual property issues. She worked for BIO as an executive vice president through April of 2011, before joining the Trade Representative office.
— Christopher Wilson, the deputy chief of mission to the World Trade Organization, recently worked for C&M International, a trade consulting group, where he represented Chevron, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, British American Tobacco, General Electric, Apple and other corporate interests. Wilson’s financial disclosure shows he made $250,000 a year, in addition to an $80,000 bonus in 2013, before he joined the Obama administration. Wilson left C&M International in February of 2014 and later joined the Trade Representative’s office. C&M International reportedly lobbied Malaysia, urging it to oppose tobacco regulations in Australia.
— Robert Holleyman, the deputy United States trade representative, previously worked as the president of the Business Software Alliance, a lobbying group that represents IBM, Microsoft, Adobe, Apple and other technology companies seeking to strengthen copyright law. Holleyman earned $1,141,228 at BSA before his appointment. Holleyman was nominated for his current position in February of last year.
These disclosures about the revolving door at the trade agency come after U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman received scrutiny over a special bonus paid to him in 2009 after he left Citigroup to join the Obama administration as deputy assistant to the president. Froman received more than $7.4 million from Citi in the year prior to joining the administration.
Critics note that under the TPP, corporations will be empowered to file lawsuits against governments to block laws that could impair future profits. The lawsuits would fall under special tribunals set up by the World Bank.
Many of the former clients of the trade officials now negotiating these agreements stand to gain immensely.
Sharon Bomer Lauritsen and Christopher Wilson both represented biotech companies. As economist Joseph Stiglitz has argued, the TPP could restrict competition in the pharmaceutical industry by undermining government regulation of drug prices and by creating new rules to obstruct the introduction of generic drugs.
Robert Holleyman represented software companies. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the TPP “contains DRM [Digital Rights Management] anti-circumvention provisions that will make it a crime to tinker with, hack, re-sell, preserve, and otherwise control any number of digital files and devices that you own.”
The contents of the trade deals are secret and therefore still veiled from scrutiny by the public and even most members of Congress. Only trade officials and select corporate representatives have been able to review them.
Despite growing opposition to both deals, Finance Committee Chair Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, may introduce legislation this week to provide President Obama with “fast track” authority to limit congressional review over and expedite approval of the agreements.
Photo of United States Trade Representative Michael Froman. (Alex Wong/Getty)