THE BLOG

US Trade Rep Serves Drug Companies, Publishers and Pushes Anti-Consumer Agenda

05/03/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Today the Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on the 2010 Trade Agenda. The single witness is Ambassador Ron Kirk, the United States Trade Representative. (The agency Kirk runs is known by the same name -- USTR for short.) This is a busy week. A few blocks away, at the International Trade Commission (ITC), USTR is holding a day long hearing on something called the Special 301 list -- which is a program to pressure trading partners on intellectual property rights. On Monday, in Geneva, the USTR blocked a request by developing countries to hold a workshop at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on access to patented medicine. The USTR is also doing damage control to defend a controversial new trade agreement on the enforcement of intellectual property rights that is being negotiated in secret, and trying to block a new treaty at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) for persons who are blind or have other disabilities.

From the point of view of many consumers, public health, digital rights and development groups, USTR is a major disappointment, as it pushes an anti consumer agenda on dozens of issues. Industry lobbyists, on the other hand, are pretty happy. One PhRMA lobbyist told Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) that they were amazed at how "malleable" USTR is under Kirk. General Electric lobbyists on climate change practically write the USTR work program on patents and climate change. When publishers were rebuffed by the White House office of disabilities and the US Patent and Trade Office (USPTO) on a proposed treaty for copyright exceptions for persons who are blind or have disabilities -- they turned to USTR to reign in the Obama administration's bleeding hearts. When the White House issued a new memorandum on transparency, the USTR laughed, and declared negotiations on an international agreement on damages for patent and copyright infringement to be a state secret -- except for hundreds of corporate lawyers and advisors who are briefed under non-disclosure agreements.

When the Republicans ran the USTR, there was some Congressional opposition to policies that were anti-consumer, or that would harm the poor. With the Democrats in charge of the Congress and the White House, there is now almost no resistance to what is becoming an increasingly shrill voice for industry lobbies.

Before being head of USTR, Ron Kirk was involved in Texas politics, having once served as Mayor of Dallas, and more recently as a partner at Vinson & Elkins -- the big corporate law firm. His chief of staff is Julianna Smoot, a legendary fundraiser for the Democrats.

Prior to joining the USTR, Ms. Smoot served as Senior Advisor to President Obama and served as Co-Chair of the Presidential Inaugural Committee. In January 2007, Ms. Smoot joined President Obama's Presidential Campaign as the National Finance Director. Prior to working for President Obama, Ms. Smoot served as National Finance Director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, chaired by Senator Charles Schumer.

(Update on Smoot here)

We try to work with USTR on intellectual property right issues. Kirk has no background on this topic, and delegates policy to Stan McCoy, a hardliner who had the same job in the Bush Administration. McCoy has assigned Kira Alvarez to head up the negotiations on the secret ACTA agreement on the enforcement of intellectual property rights. Before this, Kira had been a lobbyist for Time-Warner and Lilly. USTR is known around DC for the revolving door. Two past heads of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations (IFPMA) were former USTR employees, as are hundreds of lobbyists for various trade organizations and big corporations.