By Lee Fang on The Intercept

OPINION COLUMNS PUBLISHED in California newspapers over the last year in support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership use language nearly identical to drafts written and distributed by public relations professionals who were retained by the Japanese government to build U.S. support for the controversial trade agreement.

Take this column by former San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders, who now serves as the president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, in the San Diego Union-Tribune, titled: “Trans-Pacific trade pact benefits San Diego.”

Much of the language in Sanders’ op-ed also appears in a “San Diego Draft op-ed” distributed by Southwest Strategies, a consulting firm paid by the Japanese government to promote the TPP:

Jerry Sanders: “Notably, the TPP includes Japan, which is significant”
Southwest Strategies: “Notably, the TPP includes Japan, which is critical”

Jerry Sanders: “Trade is essential for sustaining America’s role as the most innovative economy in the world”
Southwest Strategies: “Trade is essential for sustaining America’s role as the most innovative economy in the world”

Jerry Sanders: “With more than 95 percent of the world’s consumers outside of our borders, and with more than one in five U.S. jobs dependent on trade, it is essential that the U.S. continue to open new markets for American goods and services, while creating and sustaining jobs for American workers.”
Southwest Strategies: “With more than 95 percent of the world’s consumers outside of our borders, and with more than one in five U.S. jobs dependent on trade, it is critical that the U.S. continue to open new markets for American goods, intellectual property rights and services, and create and sustain high-skilled, high-wage jobs for American workers.”

Or take this column, “TPP Will Strengthen California’s Economy,” by Pat Fong Kushida, the president and CEO of the CalAsian Chamber of Commerce, which was published in a Los Angeles daily newspaper called The Rafu Shimpo, with a truncated version appearing in the Sacramento Business Journal.

Kushida’s pro-TPP column is word-for-word identical to a draft column distributed by Southwest Strategies. The only difference between the draft and the published op-ed are the verb tenses, such as changing “will be” to “was” and “addresses” to “addressed.”

Foreign lobbying records required by the Department of Justice show that Southwest Strategies was retained on March 12, 2015, for a contract of $10,000 per month, to promote trade policies favored by the Embassy of Japan. The relationship with Southwest Strategies, a San Diego-based company, was formed through KP Public Affairs, the highest grossing lobbying firm in Sacramento.

“We don’t have a policy on op-eds by third parties, but we do request that op-eds be exclusive to The San Diego Union-Tribune,” said Matthew Hall, the editorial and opinion director of the paper. “We understand that PR people may help others with op-eds and that some op-eds may contain talking points articulated elsewhere, but our intent is to have a broad conversation about topical issues and tap into multiple points of view as we did with op-eds supporting and opposing the Trans Pacific Partnership in our pages in August 2015.

We reached out for comment to Southwest Strategies, Sanders and Kushida, but did not receive a response.

The Japanese government has been among the biggest trade-deal advocates in Washington, retaining a small army of lobbyists and consultants to build support among American policymakers. As the New York Times reported, lobbyists working for Japan helped organize a pro-TPP congressional caucus, along with a research and publicity effort housed at Center for Strategic and International Studies, a prominent Beltway think tank that receives funding from the Japanese government.

Critics of the TPP contend that the agreement will allow corporations to use special tribunals set up by the World Bank to block laws, including environmental protections, that have the potential to stifle future profits. A recent study also found that as many as 448,000 U.S. jobs could be lost as a result of the deal.

Last year, after a protracted fight in Congress, President Barack Obama won fast track authority for the TPP, setting the stage for the agreement to move forward.

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