Yesterday, I went to the stakeholders engagement part of the latest TPP negotiating round. (This is the 14th round of TPP negotiations. How many more will there be? Another 14?)
This was the first time I've attended one of these. Here are some impressions. (But don't expect any great insights into the state of the negotiations -- for that you are better off with Inside U.S. Trade.)
There were three main parts to the stakeholders event.
The first part was a series of short presentations -- 11 minutes each -- on issues related to the TPP. I think the presentations were mainly by TPP opponents, but there were some by supporters as well. I went to two presentations on tobacco trade issues. They were good, but it is hard to say much in 11 minutes, and there was no time for questions. I left and went over to the second part.
The second part involved a big meeting room where stakeholders could set up tables, hand out materials, and mingle with each other. My table was between an anti-tobacco group and some Australian cattlemen. (I asked the cattlemen about free samples, and they told me they were having a barbeque later. Unfortunately, they were just joking.) It was a good opportunity to chat with people, either like-minded or ideological opponents. In addition, a number of government delegates came through, and some seemed happy to chat.
The third part came later in the day. In the same big meeting room, the chief negotiators for each delegation sat in the front of the room and took questions from the stakeholders. I only stayed for four of these, as they all seemed to reflect the same theme: Opponents of the TPP wanted to vent (about IP and investor-state in particular), and perhaps plant seeds of doubt in the minds of the developing country delegations.
Overall, it was a useful exercise. But I got the sense that if your goal is to influence trade policy, this stakeholder event is not really the place to do it.
(I was told there was a protest outside the venue at some point, but I couldn't hear it from the inside, possibly because I was trying to catch up on the NFL games going on at the time.)