- Associated Press - Thursday, February 6, 2014

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Vermont lawmakers balked Thursday at a demand from the office of the U.S. trade representative to conduct secret talks over the impacts of a proposed international trade agreement.

An ad hoc group of House members was to have a telephone meeting with officials in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative on Thursday about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. But state Rep. Mike Yantachka says the trade representative’s office said in an email the media should be barred from attending.

After reporters from The Associated Press and Vermont Public Radio arrived, the legislators - Yantachka, Kathy Keenan and Jim McCullough - said they would not ask reporters to leave.

“We don’t have a closed-door policy here,” Yantachka said.

The three lawmakers gathered around a speaker phone, called USTR official Rebecca Rosen and told her reporters were present and would not be ejected.

Rosen replied by saying she wanted to talk with her colleagues at the USTR office to determine whether they wanted to have the conversation under the Vermont lawmakers’ terms. She said she would be back in touch on Friday morning about rescheduling.

After getting off the call, Keenan scoffed at Rosen’s title: director of intergovernmental affairs and public engagement.

“They don’t want to engage,” the St. Albans Democrat said.

Some members of Vermont’s Democratic-controlled House and Senate have been critical of international trade deals they say can interfere with the state’s ability to regulate the environment, drug pricing and other matters.

The Legislature passed a resolution last year asking the USTR to respect the sovereignty of individual states. It expressed lawmakers’ concern that the trade pact could allow companies to go before an international tribunal and challenge states’ rights to regulate tobacco, drug prices and labeling of home-grown products like, in Vermont’s case, maple syrup.

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