The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Robyn Shapiro,

Business Interests Dominate U.S. Trade Advisory System, Gain Access to Trade-Pact Texts Kept Secret from Public, New Economic Liberties Research Shows

Interactive Website Reveals 84% of Trade Advisors Represent Business, Some Corporations Like Amazon Have Multiple People, Many Committees Have Only Business Reps

More than 400 U.S. trade advisors representing corporate interests can access classified trade texts and secretive processes while the public, press, and, to some degree, even Congress are locked out, a new website launched today by American Economic Liberties Project’s Rethink Trade program reveals. The combination of secrecy and the unbalanced advisory system explain why trade negotiations have become a favored venue for corporate interests to push policy goals unrelated to trade that likely would not survive the sunshine of public debate. Big Tech interests seek to rig emerging trade pacts with terms that undermine privacy protections, online civil rights, anti-monopoly initiatives, and gig worker protections promoted by Congress and regulatory agencies.

“The Biden administration wants to create a smart new trade policy that delivers for working people and their communities, while most of the official U.S. trade advisors are business interests that want to revert backwards to the failed trade policies of the past,” said Lori Wallach, Director of Rethink Trade. “Trade-pact proposals and negotiating texts, especially those setting binding rules affecting our privacy, civil rights and liberties, domestic competition policy and other things unrelated to trade, must be made publicly available so everyone who will live with the results can help shape the binding policies that affect our daily lives.”

Trade advisors obtain security clearances, access to U.S. trade proposals and opportunities to comment to get changes. Members of Congress must travel to a SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility) to see text, while private-sector advisors get access via a website. The U.S. Trade Representative recently rechartered the Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations (ACTPN), which it administers. USTR appointed new advisors that represent diverse interests and perspectives.

For the first time in ACTPN’s almost 50-year history the majority of members do not represent corporate interests. But the rest of the committees, including the Commerce Department jointly-administrated ones reappointed in 2022, remain largely corporate.

Thus, as the Biden administration engages in major Asian trade talks on a possible Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and Kenya and Taiwan talks and may soon start the regional Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity (APEP), mainly corporate interests have access. The main findings of the investigation include:

  • Eighty-four percent of U.S. trade advisors represent business interests. Of the 479 unique advisors in the system, 401 represent corporations, corporate trade associations, small and medium-sized enterprises, agribusiness promotion boards, and professional trade associations. Twenty-three unions are also part of the system and comprise the main non-business-sector voice in the process.
  • Sixty-nine percent of the advisors represent large corporations and corporate trade associations. Many of the largest corporations have at least one person in the U.S. trade advisory system, including Amazon, Google, Walmart, Tyson Foods, Pfizer, Abbott Laboratories, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing.
  • Thirty-six organizations have two or more representatives, including large firms like Amazon, FedEx, Cargill, Johnson & Johnson, and Amway. Almost all organizations with multiple representatives are from the business sector. (The exceptions are two standard-setting bodies, a university, and five unions.)
  • Most of the 27 trade advisory committees are dominated by corporate representatives. While President Biden recently appointed a balanced set of members for the the Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations, including representatives from unions, non-profits, academia, and state government; the members of 25 of the other 26 committees are predominantly, if not entirely, business representatives.
  • At least one corporate representative serves on all but one of the 27 U.S. trade committees. Even on the Trade and Environment Policy Advisory Committee, 40% of the participants represent corporations or corporate trade associations. The only committee without a corporate representative is the Labor Advisory Committee, which consists entirely of representatives from organized labor.
  • Of the 16 advisors that are associated with the tech sector, 14 represent corporate interests. Executives from firms like Amazon, Google, Oracle, Qualcomm, Verizon, and AT&T are included. Not a single person from a consumer, civil rights, or union background is included to represent the public interest in determining the U.S. government position on “digital trade.” Of the other seats, most are taken by corporate trade associations that defend the same interests, such as the Coalition of Services Industries and the Software Alliance. This imbalance could hugely impact the major “digital trade” talks with Asia-Pacific and Latin American nations.
  • Agricultural and food producers are significantly overrepresented in the trade advisory system. While agriculture, food, and other related industries contribute around 5.4% to the U.S. gross domestic product; 40.4% of the government’s trade advisors represent agricultural or food manufacturing interests.
  • Most U.S. trade advisors work for organizations located in Washington, D.C. Over one-third of the 440 unique organizations in the trade advisory system are located in the Washington, D.C. area.
“The entire advisory system need to be recharted along the lines of what USTR did with the committee they control exclusively because replacing decades of failed U.S. trade policy and pacts shaped by and for the corporate interests represented by these advisors is much more difficult while they maintain an inside role on trade texts and negotiations kept secret from the public,” Wallach said. Rethink Trade mapped the names and organizations of the 479 advisors appointed to the U.S. government’s official 27 trade advisory committees. Each advisor was classified into one of 23 economic sectors based on the predominant activity of the organization that each advisor represents and into one of 13 organization type classifications.

Learn more about Rethink Trade, a program of the American Economic Liberties Project, here.

Learn more about Economic Liberties here.

The American Economic Liberties Project works to ensure America's system of commerce is structured to advance, rather than undermine, economic liberty, fair commerce, and a secure, inclusive democracy. Economic Liberties believes true economic liberty means entrepreneurs and businesses large and small succeed on the merits of their ideas and hard work; commerce empowers consumers, workers, farmers, and engineers instead of subjecting them to discrimination and abuse from financiers and monopolists; foreign trade arrangements support domestic security and democracy; and wealth is broadly distributed to support equitable political power.