On July 8, negotiators from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and the European Union began meetings on the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA), also known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The negotiations are largely focused on reducing so-called "regulatory trade barriers" and "non-tariff issues," meaning they will target important consumer and environmental protections. Citizen groups and consumer advocates continue to warn the public about the threats TAFTA poses to public protections and democratic rights.
On April 10, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) co-hosted a two-day stakeholder session with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as part of its annual High Level Regulatory Cooperation Forum. The forum provides an opportunity for members of the business community to tell American and European officials how they would like the standards and safeguards that regulate their activities to be "harmonized." For the business community, "harmonization" is generally viewed as an opportunity to move to the lowest standards, or in the language of free trade, to remove or reduce "trade irritants." The exchange at the forum was between business and government; few public interest representatives were allowed to participate.
In 1981, President Reagan signed an executive order charging the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) with reviewing all economically significant rules and rejecting those that did not pass a strict cost-benefit test. Supporters of environmental, consumer, and worker protection standards have long criticized the office for failing to make its analyses public. Moreover, the office has a reputation for meeting with industry interests behind closed doors and for engaging in intrusive back-and-forth exchanges with agencies over proposed rules. This often results in the office delaying, watering down, or blocking new standards and safeguards.