Environmentalists threaten legal action over exclusion from chemical advisory body

Environmental and consumer groups have demanded that US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky expand the membership of a panel that advises her on trade in 'Chemicals and Allied Products' to include non-industry representatives.

If the request is refused, the groups vowed to take the matter to a federal court. The letter demands that Barshefsky “immediately appoint … at least one representative from an environmental organisation that works to prevent the negative environmental and health effects from toxic substances.”

On November 9, 1999, a US District judge ruled that the Trade Representative’s industry-only advisory committees on the paper and wood products sectors violate the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Under that act, advisory committees must represent a fair balance of viewpoints.

The groups say the chemicals committee is reserved for people who will present “the views and interests of a US business in the chemicals or allied products industry sector.” They say the United States Trade Representative meets with the chemicals committee in secret, giving the committee inside information and opportunities to influence US trade policy.

“When it comes to negotiating trade agreements and developing trade policy, the administration has ignored basic democratic principles,” said Patti Goldman, the attorney with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund who sent the demand letter. “These advisory committees collide with laws that prohibit such one-sided influence behind closed doors by only those with money and influence.”

“The Chemical and Allied Products Advisory Committee is currently advocating freer trade of some of the most deadly, misguided chemicals ever produced, including DDT, CFCs and asbestos,” said Jim Puckett, of the Asia Pacific Environmental Exchange (APEX). “While the rest of the world is busy banning and phasing out these killer

chemicals, the lopsided make-up of the committee has actually promoted their marketing and consumption.”

“The US Trade Representative has no right to represent the interests of industry against the interests of the American public and at the expense of our health and environment, said Leslie Byster, program director, Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. “Workers and communities most impacted by decisions made by this Chemical Advisory Group must be at the table. It is not up to the US Trade Rep or industry to determine environmental health policy.”

“With input from the chemical industry alone, it is not surprising that the Trade Representative has successfully urged to the WTO to prevent precaution-based health standards,” said Carol Dansereau, executive director, Washington Toxics Coalition.

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