President Obama’s meeting Friday with a bipartisan group of former top government officials is designed to stress the Trans-Pacific Partnership is supported by top former diplomats and national security experts. But those icons aren’t necessarily disinterested voices: They currently maintain ties to industries with a financial interest in the controversial 12-nation trade deal.
While Obama has publicly criticized the so-called “revolving door” between government and business, the headliners attending Friday’s meeting are some of the best-known government officials who now help corporations influence government. They include former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, former joint chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, and former Secretary of State James Baker.
-- Albright is currently the chair of Albright Stonebridge, which describes itself as a “ strategic advisory and commercial diplomacy firm” focused on helping corporate clients “navigate international markets.” The firm’s East Asia team -- which operates in countries involved in the TPP -- says it represents “clients throughout the region in a wide variety of sectors -- from consumer goods and retail, to financial services, life sciences, and information and communications technology.” The Obama administration has said the TPP is designed to provide “new and meaningful market access for goods and services” among member countries. Albright also runs a private investment fund, Albright Capital, whose SEC forms say it has “a primary focus on securities of companies located in or primarily doing business in emerging market countries.” The TPP aims to strengthen foreign investors’ rights in Asia’s emerging markets -- including empowering those investors to challenge domestic laws in international tribunals.
-- Mullen is currently a board member of General Motors -- which is a member of the U.S. Business Coalition for TPP and has lobbied members of Congress on the trade deal. He is also a senior adviser at Providence Equity Partners -- a private equity firm that does business in Asia.
-- Scowcroft’s eponymous consulting firm has a partnership with McLarty Associates, a company that advises U.S. companies on how to navigate business environments in foreign countries, including some that are part of the TPP. The McLarty Associates website touts the firm’s work helping “an iconic American company to successfully build a $250 million production facility in Malaysia for export throughout the region as well as to South Asia and the Middle East.” Malaysia’s inclusion in the TPP has generated controversy, based on the country’s poor record on human trafficking.
-- Baker is a senior partner in the law and lobbying firm Baker Botts, with a focus on “cross-border transactions.” His firm has a substantial energy practice, drawing top ratings last year for its work on behalf of oil and gas companies and clients with liquefied natural gas projects. Environmental groups say the TPP will increase approvals of liquified natural gas exports. The lobbyists at Baker’s law firm represent the U.S. subsidiary of the global offshore drilling company, Noble Corp., which has an office in TPP-member country Singapore. Baker’s firm has also lobbied for Akzo Nobel Polymer Chemicals on tariff issues.