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Who’s negotiating our trade agreements?

The Washington Post has a nifty interactive infographic that shows who sits on the committees that advise the administration on trade negotiations. And although nobody can accuse me of being a pollyanna about the influence of business on trade agreements, even I was a bit stunned by just how corporate-heavy the committees are.

It’s worth going through the whole infographic, because at first things don’t look so bad. There are a lot of industry and trade organizations, but a fair sprinkling of academics, NGOs, and labor representatives too; given that all of our policy decisions are heavily weighted toward corporate interests, the overall distribution looks like a snapshot of economic power in our society. That’s not great, but it would be weird to expect business to have less voice in trade deals than they do elsewhere.

But that third page, where we see who goes on what committee? That’s more than a bit horrifying:

The labor advisors are almost entirely confined to one committee (“Trade negotiations and policy, labor”), which is entirely composed of labor advisors talking to themselves. No doubt this committee makes resolutions; no doubt these resolutions are ignored.

The academic advisors are almost as ghettoized, in the “trade and environment” committee. (That committee does have two representatives from trade associations, one from the solar industry.)

Meanwhile, every committee that deals with specifics is entirely or almost entirely made up of representatives of businesses and trade groups. Autos and capital goods? Aerospace equipment? Steel? No representatives from labor. Intellectual property rights? No representatives from academia.

In my piece about the TPP I said that trade agreements are tools for businesses to get what they want without going through the normal democratic process. This doesn’t exactly make me change my opinion.

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