Out here on Maui, it’s relatively easy for big international news stories like the ongoing negotiations over the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade zone to get lost. Between locals just trying to find out why the Pali is backed up and visitors more concerned about scheduling their luau, few people out here want to find out the latest in free trade zone talks.
No matter, because later this month, one of the biggest international trade/foreign policy stories of the decade will be coming here. That’s right: in late July, trade ministers from a dozen nations will fly to Maui to likely conclude five years of negotiations aimed at creating a free trade zone that would include the U.S., Canada, Peru, Australia, China, Japan and even Vietnam.
Talks have been ongoing since 2010. Like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signed during Bill Clinton’s presidency, the TPP would remove trade restrictions between a host of Pacific nations. According to the New York Times, it’s “the most trade deal in a generation” and could be a “legacy-defining achievement” for President Barack Obama. On July 6, the Times reported that a deal was at hand, and that talks could very well conclude right here at the Westin Maui:
United States officials feel confident enough a deal is at hand that they have scheduled a meeting among the chief negotiators at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa in Hawaii during the last four days in July and have notified Congress that they expect this to be the last one. Still, it will be some time before a deal is ratified. Under terms set by Congress in trade negotiating legislation last month, a July 31 agreement could not be signed until Oct. 31 or more likely the beginning of November. Congress cannot begin considering it until December.
Of course, an official statement posted on website of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative concerning the Maui talks is a lot more bureaucratic, but also didn’t mention which hotel would host the talks:
The United States will host a meeting of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Trade Ministers in Maui, Hawaii from July 28-31, preceded by a meeting of TPP Chief Negotiators from July 24-27. Since they last met in May, Trade Ministers from the twelve TPP countries have been working continuously. As a result, we have made considerable progress in closing gaps on remaining issues, and we continue to work intensively to address specific issues bilaterally. The upcoming ministerial provides an important opportunity to build on this progress as we work to conclude the negotiation.
Sumithra Balraj, the Director of Public Relations for the Westin Maui, didn’t want to comment on the upcoming talks. She also said she didn’t know why the trade ministers chose the Westin to conclude their talks. To be fair, her reluctance to talk publicly about the upcoming talks is understandable. It isn’t every day that a dozen trade ministers (and their respective staffs and security details) descend on Ka’anapali.
Indeed, Pacific Business News reported on July 8 that TPP negotiators last met on Hawaii Island (at the Waikoloa Marriott) back in March. “They were greeted by protesters who lined Queen Kaahumanu Highway near the resort’s entrance,” according to PBN.
That’s because the TPP–a free trade deal–is very controversial. Like NAFTA, opposition to TPP from organized labor has been considerable. The AFL/CIO has been especially outspoken against it:
Negotiations for the TPP remain closed to the public and the text of the agreement remains classified. While the administration touts the TPP as a job-creating, wage-raising enterprise, it has not made public any employment or sectoral impacts study. The administration hasn’t provided information as to how the TPP will promote manufacturing more effectively than current U.S. trade policy and the global corporate agenda continues to make demands for deregulation, privatization, tax breaks and other financial advantages for Big Business while shrinking the social safety net in the name of “labor flexibility.”
Tulsi Gabbard, D–2nd District, Maui’s own congressional representative, has also come out against the TPP, calling the deal’s authority a “monstrosity.”
Photo courtesy Westin Maui