SAN DIEGO (AP) — Negotiators from the United States and eight other Pacific Rim countries opened a round of talks Monday aimed at producing one of the most ambitious trade deals in decades amid growing criticism that the deliberations are shrouded in secrecy.
The United States has been negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement. for about three years. The talks include Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Mexico and Canada are expected to join, and Japan has expressed interest.
The pact is intended to lower trade barriers and spur economic growth in the region.
Last week, two-thirds of House Democrats wrote to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk — the White House's top trade official — complaining they were being left out of the loop on the pact.
Rep. Darrell Issa, Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Kirk denied his request to observe the 13th round of talks, which run through July 10. Issa said the talks should not be "a secretive backroom negotiation."
President Barack Obama said in November he was optimistic an agreement would be reached this year.
About 100 protestors peacefully demonstrated outside the downtown hotel where the talks opened. Critics said the talks threatened climate change laws, regulation of financial markets, labor rights and environmental and health protections.
"Let us say open these negotiations to the people," U.S. Rep. Bob Filner, a San Diego Democrat, told the crowd. "Let's stop this so-called free trade."
U.S. officials insist they have been as open as they have ever been on a trade agreement. They say making public their negotiating positions would undercut their leverage in the talks with other countries.
Hundreds of critics and supporters who registered two weeks in advance had a chance to speak directly with negotiators in an exhibit hall. About 50 groups set up tables with signs that revealed sharply different and sometimes competing agendas. Among them were the Green Party, Rubber and Plastic Footwear Manufacturing Association, Democratic Socialists of America, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and Teamsters union.
Jodie Griffin, an attorney for the Public Knowledge advocacy group, told a U.S. negotiator that she worried that copyright protections in the pact would be too severe and harmful to consumers. She also said negotiating documents should be open to public view.
"We're trying to be as transparent as possible," responded Michael Masserman, executive director of export policy at the U.S. Commerce Department. "Lots of sensitivities in the (intellectual property) negotiations."
The public forums are an opening day staple, at least for rounds held in the United States. Negotiators slowly walked the aisles, politely engaging skeptics seated at tables.
Some negotiators "are lapdogs for the big corporations," Ernest Verano, 49, an employee of a San Diego pharmaceutical company whose table displayed a handwritten sign criticizing the North American Free Trade Agreement, told a Malaysian delegate.
The delegate, who declined to give her name, listened politely to his concerns and said the group will try to do its best.
The San Diego round is not expected to produce a final agreement. The U.S. delegation is led by Barbar Weisel, assistant U.S. trade representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.
The San Diego City Council passed a resolution Tuesday opposing President Donald Trump's plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Veterans from across the country are in San Diego for a special event. They're taking part in a sports clinic designed to improve rehabilitation with adaptable activities. News 8's Heather Hope has details on the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic.
A magnitude 7.1 earthquake rocked central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 55 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust.
Jose Luis Millan found a new crop of star employees at an upscale Tijuana car wash where customers cross the border from the U.S. to pay up to $950 to have their prized possessions steamed and scrubbed for hours. They’re never late, always hustle and come in on days off to learn new skills, traits that he says make them a model for their Mexican counterparts.
The City Council approved an agreement on Tuesday to rename what had been Qualcomm Stadium as SDCCU Stadium, with the San Diego County Credit Union bidding $500,000 for the naming rights.
With the number of documented hepatitis A cases continuing to rise, Mayor Kevin Faulconer, San Diego County health officials and several civic leaders joined together Tuesday to kick off a “Vaccination, Sanitation and Education” campaign to urge the public to take appropriate precautions.
One person was taken to a hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation Tuesday after a fire broke out at a Pacific Beach apartment complex, authorities said.
The San Diego City Council Tuesday unanimously approved a $12.5 million payment to settle a lawsuit brought by a family that contends dangerous driving conditions led to a roadway accident that killed a baby and injured her father.
A plan to turn a historic mansion in Coronado into transitional house for sex trafficking survivors is moving forward, despite strong opposition from neighbors.