Whose Forum is it Anyway?

Have you been to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce yet? If not, get moving! Hop on a plane, bus, train or carpool your way down to Washington, D.C. for your chance to finally meet the secretive members of the nation's largest private lobbying group. The U.S. Chamber influences policy impacting your health, safety, welfare, and small business on behalf of their multi-national, corporate members.

This past Tuesday, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced a Public Meeting to discuss their call for comments on "Promoting US EC Regulatory Compatibility” otherwise known as TAFTA or the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement. These proposed trade revisions touted in the President's State of the Union would roll back food safety, chemical, financial, and more stringent climate change regulations in Europe, taking the wind out of efforts by consumer advocacy groups and activists here in the U.S. to replicate and push for similar protections. You didn't get the invitation? That may be because this so-called "Public Meeting" is actually hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The convening is not taking place in ;Any-town, USA by your local town (or even city) Chamber. Not in the U.S. Department of Commerce or a similar government agency. It will be just a short jaunt from the White House on April 10th and 11th, no-doubt in a comfortably large and well-apportioned conference space. Any person wishing to give an oral statement with regard to the proposed trade rules can sign up here by simply emailing - international-OIRA@omb.eop.gov. Oh but wait, actually those who responded to the Agency's original September notice will be given "preference" especially given the "limited amount of time available for the meeting, and to take advantage of the work already done by members of the public." So see if they can fit you in.

Interestingly, OMB's notice (in conjunction with the European Commission) describes the meeting as another convening of the U.S.-EU High Level Regulatory Cooperation Forum (the “Forum”). In fact, it states that "As with previous Forum meetings, the public sessions will be hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce." So if this is not new, how long has the Chamber been hosting "Public Meetings" on our behalf? And just what exactly is the Forum? According to the White House's website, the Forum, "provides a setting for senior officials from all areas of government to come together to discuss regulatory policies of mutual interest." That sounds like something within the public sphere, accountable to taxpayers and voters. And yet the Forum is also described as contributing to, "to achieving the objectives of high-level political bodies such as the Transatlantic Economic Council and the Energy Council."

The Transatlantic Economic Council is a new entity, founded just this year on January 1, 2013. It was created by merging the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) and European-American Business Council (EABC). Some of its members include such good corporate citizens as AIG, Deutsche Bank, and Phillip Morris Intl. The phrase "regulatory capture" strains under the weight of huge multinational corporations operating as an extended arm of the U.S. government, with citizens included as an afterthought.

That's why we need to fight back. Public Citizen calls on activists to demand that OMB and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative cancel the scheduled forum and replace it with a real public meeting. The health of our communities, natural resources, financial system, and small businesses are affected by these trade negotiations. It is completely inappropriate for the U.S. Chamber to continue to host these meetings and for the U.S. government to give "the Forum" a special seat at the bargaining table.

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