Teamsters fury over trade pact

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

An article in the New York Times with the “shocking” headline that “European Officials Consulted Business Leaders on Trade Pact” has got International Brotherhood of Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa all in a lather.

Specifically, Hoffa is outraged that “the business lobby has been included in every step of the process” of ongoing trade negotiations championed by the Obama Administration, including the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) as well as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Where to start?

First, when you’re negotiating a trade agreement, listening to the input of people who actually engage in trade isn’t just a good idea: It’s the law.

While the Times was looking at the EU, here in the United States the president is required by the Trade Act of 1974 to “seek information and advice from representative elements of the private sector” in setting trade policy, including “all industry, labor, agricultural, or service interests (including small business interests).”

Similarly, it sounds prudent for European officials to listen to the ideas of representatives of U.S. companies that have invested more than $3 trillion in their countries.

Second, we get a chuckle from Hoffa’s comments because we at the Chamber like nothing better than when folks actually read and debate our ideas.

The Chamber has been pushing its evolving proposals for a transatlantic trade pact into the hands of anyone willing to give them a glance for several years now, the somewhat breathless account of the Times notwithstanding.

We’ve been delighted to share these ideas with our European friends, just as we’ve shared them widely on this side of the pond. We think they’ll boost economic growth and job creation — even for Teamsters.

Third, Hoffa personally has been “included in every step of the process” as the Obama Administration has advanced its trade negotiations — at least as much as business groups.

Visitor logs showed that Hoffa visited the White House 22 times in President Obama’s first term. By any definition, that makes him a very frequent visitor to the Executive Mansion.

We have no idea what topics he addressed in these visits, but the Teamsters have certainly been publicly vocal on trade issues. Moreover, Hoffa serves on the president’s Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations, the top U.S. trade advisory committee.

This tempest in a teacup will soon pass. But meanwhile, we are reminded of pundit Michael Barone’s adage that all process arguments are insincere, including this one.

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