The latest round of negotiations for the Transpacific Partnership are set to wrap up Friday. Ministers from the U.S., Japan, Canada, and the nine other countries are gathered at a resort on the Hawaiian island of Maui to try to hash out the agreement’s final details.
The negotiation process has stretched over five years, as negotiators have tried to find common ground across a slew of issues during calls, emails, video chats and periodic in-person meetings.
As TPP negotiations come closer to completion, negotiators must tackle the most contentious issues.
“As anyone who has been in trade negotiations knows, those final decisions are always the most difficult,” Michael Froman, the U.S. Trade Representative, said earlier this week.
While negotiations have taken place in private, the TPP’s final sticking points have included sugar, dairy, state-owned enterprises, and the period of exclusivity granted to the makers of certain types of drugs.
Outside the negotiation rooms, official advisors, congressional staff, trade groups, lobbyists and non-profit advocates roam the resorts’ lobby, using every spare plug to charge phone and laptops, meeting among themselves, and hoping to catch a moment with the delegates, either through official briefings or unguarded moments in the elevator or hotel restaurants.
“I’ve adopted the Starbucks strategy,” says James Love with Knowledge Ecology International, a non-profit organization that focuses on intellectual property issues. “When I see someone come up to get a coffee and I see a blue [identification] badge, I know they’re a delegate.”
He asks them how the negotiations are going, what areas they’re working on, and offers up his perspective on drug monopolies, among other IP issues.
“It’s a bit like that guy who hits on every woman in the bar,” Love admits. “A lot of people don’t like to do it because they feel like they’re being a jerk or it’s a little bit annoying, but I’m willing to do that.”
He’s chosen three issues to focus on as the trade enters its final stages of negotiation, based on where he thinks he can have the most impact. At this point, he says it’s too late for the long shots and focusing on the low-hanging fruit isn’t a good use of time.
“Balance is the key term or catch phrase,” says a weary Auggie Tantillo, president of the National Council of Textile Organizations, who’s also prioritizing limited issues as negotiations wind down. He’s accepted that markets will open and has chosen to focus instead on what provisions might be put in place to ease the transition, such as eliminating tariffs gradually over time.
These agreements are “never done until they’re done,” he says.