A Whole-of-Government Approach to Trade

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President Obama’s groundbreaking December 2011 Presidential Memorandum calls for a cross-agency, whole-of-government approach to addressing LGBT human and civil rights shortcomings abroad. That effort surely will be a legacy of his presidency. But has the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiation honored that approach?

For several weeks, the Council for Global Equality has engaged the Administration on our concerns about the draft trade deal. We worry that the heightened intellectual property rights (IPR) restrictions being negotiated, and championed by the U.S., could make it harder for poorer signatory countries to access affordable HIV/AIDS and other life-saving communicable disease medicines in order to respond effectively to legitimate health care crises. We also find it troublesome that, as far as we can determine, the negotiations have minimized any discussion of the human rights situations in prospective signatory countries, including the treatment of LGBT individuals – issues bound to impact any long-term growth in bilateral relations, including in the trade arena.

We know, of course, that this is a trade deal, not a human rights pact. We know too that trade can be beneficial, not only to U.S. corporations, but to the populations of many other countries. But surely we can do a better job of reflecting our values and human rights priorities, even in the context of global trade.

We deeply believe in a whole-of-government approach – one in which all government foreign affairs agencies frame their individual substantive goals in such a way as to support overarching national purposes. Certainly that was implicit in the President’s 2011 Executive Order. It was even more explicit in former Secretary Clinton’s creation of a Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), to marry more closely the policy goals and programmatic tools of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.   (We engaged former Congressman Tom Perriello on the latter, and were happy to see some of our focus on LGBT-fair policies included in the most recent QDDR.)

In the same sense, trade pacts, like other national instruments, should align with broad national policies. That is where our concerns with TPP lie. By letter, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has signaled U.S. support for flexibility in the IPR applications on life-saving pharmaceuticals needed to win the global war against HIV/AIDS.   We hope the commitment to the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health means that the U.S. will not pursue so-called “TRIPS-Plus” provisions in this context. Without concrete trip-wire mechanisms to ensure the flexibility that the Doha Declaration suggests, the strengthened IPR protections in the current draft TPP agreement are out of sync with our country’s humanitarian goals, as embodied most notably in our life-saving PEPFAR programs. The Trade Representative also points to the importance of regular engagement with TPP signatory countries on human rights issues. We appreciate this approach, and we look forward to concrete pledges that these concerns will be addressed as part of this and future trade agreements, consistent with the whole-of-government approach that is a hallmark of good governance.

As the House of Representatives takes up debate on the Administration’s request for fast-track authority, we hope it will make clear that USTR must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the State Department in making clear that public health takes precedence, and that human rights shortfalls only erode our ability to sustain any long-term growth in bilateral trade. Perhaps a case can be made that an eventual TPP trade agreement may be in our national interests – but not if our national commitment to fair treatment, inclusion and humanitarian values is cheapened by the result.

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