Trade talks seek big finish in Atlanta

Negotiators from a dozen countries are meeting in Atlanta this week for what could be the final sprint toward the finish line in a huge – and hugely controversial – trade pact.

The goal is a wide-ranging “agreement in principle” on a 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The pact would set rules affecting how much Americans pay for imports, how easily U.S. companies can sell products overseas, protection for new inventions — and how it all would be enforced.

However, negotiators made a push during a July session in Hawaii and fell short of a deal.

The Obama administration badly wants a deal, arguing it will make it easier for U.S. companies to sell goods overseas and create jobs. But the TPP is vehemently opposed by many labor and left-of-center groups who see it promoting low wages and loose regulation.

Many in the business community endorse the deal, though that support is not unanimous.

The meetings are at the Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel in downtown Atlanta. Periodic talks have gone on for years, rotating among several nations and other U.S. cities.

One Georgia company closely watching is TenCate, a Jefferson-based maker of textiles and construction materials that has more than 900 employees and five plants.

Dan Trope, director of government affairs for the company, said TenCate fears its competitiveness – as well as the treatment of its export businesses – would be threatened by a deal that cuts barriers and writes rules but creates only toothless enforcement.

He said the company has been embroiled in a trade dispute with Mexico and doesn’t feel the North American Free Trade Agreement has offered protection. TenCate fears more of the same under TPP.

But it’s hard to know how agitated to be about the TPP, Trope said, because of secrecy surrounding the details negotiated so far.

Groups that oppose TPP plan two rallies Thursday in downtown Atlanta.

In a statement, one group said it feared the TPP “corrupting our democracy and eliminating our rights by putting corporations such as Walmart, Chevron, Cargill, and McDonalds in greater control of our daily lives.”

Mayor Kasim Reed, meanwhile, plans a press conference to promote TPP. Hosting the event is Colgate Mattress Atlanta Corp., a family-owned manufacturer of crib mattresses and pads.

A statement from the mayor’s office said the TPP deal would boost job growth by giving companies like Colgate improved access to foreign markets.

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