USTR Thinks A Non-Transparent 'Public Interest' Committee Will Mollify Critics; It Won't

from the not-going-to-cut-it dept

We've been pointing out for years how the US Trade Representative is creating all sorts of problems for itself by its insistence on secretly negotiating trade agreements, in which only industry insiders and lobbyists are a part of the process and have access to the documents. The USTR has ridiculously tried to argue that it's transparent because it will meet with anyone who asks, never acknowledging that hearing from people is quite different from sharing what the USTR is actually negotiating in our name. As we've said before, if the only way the American public can find out about what the USTR is negotiating in our name is because Wikileaks has released the documents, then the USTR is not being transparent. A few weeks ago, we noted some signs that the USTR was beginning to panic, as it realized that its bogus claims about transparency weren't sitting well with Congress, and its hope to tie Congress's hands via "fast track" or "trade promotion authority" is on life support.

For the first time, the USTR has kinda sorta admitted that its current process of only sharing the negotiating documents with industry lobbyists -- something that even the strongly pro-business Bloomberg referred to as a "corporatist power grab" -- isn't necessarily in the public interest. In a speech, USTR Michael Froman announced the creation of a new "Public Interest Trade Advisory Committee" (PITAC):
I’m pleased to announce that we are upgrading our advisory system to provide a new forum for experts on issues like public health, development and consumer safety.

“A new Public Interest Trade Advisory Committee (PITAC) will join the Labor Advisory Committee and the Trade and Environment Policy Advisory Committees to provide a cross-cutting platform for input in the negotiations.

“We are calling on NGOs, academics, and other public interest groups to submit their candidates to be founding members of the PITAC.
Of course, just the fact that they think they need a "public interest" advisory committee begs the question: are they admitting that until now, they just didn't give a shit about the public interest? Aren't they effectively saying that all of those other advisory committees they have, made up of big industry lobbyists, have been pushing them to screw over the public interest, in favor of short term protectionism and profits?

You'd think that the entire point of what the USTR does is that it should be negotiating agreements in the public interest, and yet as far as I can tell, they've now admitted that was never the case before, and now they seem to think that rather than being an overreaching aim of all trade agreements, that it's one of multiple "competing interests." In fact, this new proposal is actually exactly what the corporate lobbyists themselves had pushed for a few years ago, when the USTR started considering adding non-corporate representatives to the other advisory committees. The lobbyists balked at that suggestion, saying that, if anything, a separate second-tier public interest committee should be created. And that's what's now happened, with Froman pretending that this is some sort of huge move to benefit the public interest.

But, more to the point, this seems much more like a way to try to mollify critics by attempting to bring some of the most vocal critics of the lack of transparency "into the fold" (which will include strict confidentiality agreements), hoping that this shuts them up.

It takes an astounding amount of cluelessness to think that the proper response to a lack of transparency is to create another committee with secret access to the negotiating text.

While Froman also insists that he will be taking "new steps to broaden public information on the progress of negotiations," including "an update on the status of negotiations," that's not the transparency people are asking for. They're not asking for status reports. They're asking for transparency on what the USTR is negotiating in our name (though, as now admitted, without any concern for "the public interest").

Other parts of Froman's speech were equally problematic. In it, he quotes the ridiculous statistic that "Intellectual property-intensive industries account for nearly 30 million American jobs" -- ignoring, of course, that this number has been totally debunked multiple times over. The study this is based on lumped all sorts of jobs that have nothing whatsoever to do with intellectual property protections into the category of "intellectual property-intensive industries," such that the leading such employer is grocery store employees. And, sorry, but the kid putting your canned veggies into a bag doesn't have his job because of intellectual property law.

He also pretends that the USTR is supporting the exporting of fair use with the following statement:
... for the first time in any trade agreement, we are asking our trading partners to secure robust balance in their copyright systems – an unprecedented move that draws directly on U.S. copyright exceptions and limitations, including fair use for important purposes such as scholarship, criticism, news commentary, teaching, and research.
That's misleading, at best. While it's true that this is the first time the USTR has included any such provisions in a trade agreement, the actual language shows that it's more about limiting fair use than expanding it.

He also tries to dismiss the concerns that TPP is somehow "related to SOPA." He's right. It's not SOPA, but this statement is again misleading in the extreme:
The United States will agree to nothing in TPP that goes beyond existing U.S. intellectual property law.
Except... that Congress is currently debating major copyright and patent reform -- and while the leaked proposals are mostly (though not entirely) consistent with US law, they would effectively lock in aspects of current law that many have suggested should be changed. That is, while it may not change that much today, it clearly would serve to block Congress from fixing the massive problems in today's copyright and patent law. And the USTR doesn't seem to even understand this -- in part because the folks that it spends the most time discussing intellectual property with -- the intellectual property trade advisory committee (ITAC 15) are pretty much all copyright/patent maximalists.

The speech is more of the same from the USTR. It makes a bunch of false and misleading statements, either out of ignorance or with the intention of directly misleading the public. The inclusion of this new "public interest" committee is a cheap ploy to try to buy off some critics with increased access, but does nothing to address the fundamental problems with the process and the agreement.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    silverscarcat (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 1:50am

    Well...

    If you were the USTR, and you knew that the public would never allow the TPP to pass if they knew what was in it, but you wanted to silence critics, wouldn't you try something like this?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Pixelation, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 7:45am

    Yipee

    PITAC motto... "Talk To The Hand"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    icon
    JWW (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 8:05am

    USTR

    I am becoming more and more convinced that the folks in charge of the USTR really really need to be put in jail for their egregious violation of the civic duty they are epically failing to adhere to.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    icon
    That One Guy (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 8:08am

    Re: Well...

    Bring them into the 'Public Interest Committee', show them just enough to make things look good, and tie them up with so many NDA's that they can't say a thing about the 'negotiations' without being sued into oblivion... yeah, something like that would seem to be pretty effective at silencing the biggest critics without actually addressing their points.

    There's also the fact that just because they have the committee, doesn't mean they'd actually listen to it, and if their past actions are any indication they'd likely 'listen' to the public interest committee, nod their heads in a 'that's nice' fashion, and then go right back to what they were doing before, no changes at all.

    Hopefully the people calling out the failures of the 'negotiations' see through this attempted scam, and tell the USTR to get bent, sticking with the demands for actual transparency.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    icon
    ethorad (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 8:27am

    Seriously?

    "We are calling on NGOs, academics, and other public interest groups to submit their candidates to be founding members of the PITAC."

    So they're lumping various public interest groups together in the PITA Comittee?

    They're not even being subtle about calling public interest groups a Pain In The Ass any more!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 8:43am

    Re: Re: Well...

    That is actually the fundamental problem: As soon as you lock down their ability to communicate efficiently with the appropriate sources, their ability to act can be questioned. Unfortunately the seal of secrecy is common among business to business arrangements and that is more or less what trade agreements work as. Government-suggested business arrangements. How much influence each party has over the result is actual a fair question, but the fact that ACTA used industry-written drafts, there are a vast majority of mostly company ITACs compared to others and the bribery investigation of Chriss Dodd after ACTA/SOPA fell, all seems to suggest Bloomberg wasn't completely wrong...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 8:46am

    "We are calling on NGOs, academics, and other public interest groups to submit their candidates to be founding members of the PITAC."

    Then we will select Penelope from astroturf groups of fill the committee.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 8:46am

    Even if the critics would not silenced by NDAs this will still be an attempt to put them all in one group that they don't listen to so that they can pretend that they are included. It's just like the invitations for the public to have input. They create them but don't actually listen to them. Same thing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    icon
    ECA (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 9:35am

    Only reason to HIDE something

    Only reason to hide something??
    is to HIDE something yo dont want others to see.




    I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.

    Thomas Jefferson

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 9:41am

    PITAC...

    Onomatopoeia for spitting on something.
    Seems fitting with these guys.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    icon
    gorehound (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 10:31am

    USTR are Anti-American Traitors and should all be arrested and tried for treason.
    FUCK their toilet paper pact !

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 12:34pm

    Re: USTR

    I've been convinced of this long ago.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Kronomex, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 2:06pm

    It still comes down to, "Do as I say, not as I do."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    icon
    Seegras (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 3:14pm

    Re: Re: USTR

    Absolutely. They refused even the Congress, their direct superior, to view the documents. Which in my view reads as "treason".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    icon
    Seegras (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 3:23pm

    Re:

    Yep, Anti-American too. Ant-European as well. And Anti-Australian. And Anti-Japanese.

    But they're only traitors against the US citizens, so it's your job to impeach them for their crimes.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 4:57pm

    Except... that Congress is currently debating major copyright and patent reform -- and while the leaked proposals are mostly (though not entirely) consistent with US law, they would effectively lock in aspects of current law that many have suggested should be changed. That is, while it may not change that much today, it clearly would serve to block Congress from fixing the massive problems in today's copyright and patent law. And the USTR doesn't seem to even understand this -- in part because the folks that it spends the most time discussing intellectual property with -- the intellectual property trade advisory committee (ITAC 15) are pretty much all copyright/patent maximalists.

    Wait a minute. Aren't aspects of current law that many have suggested should be changed already locked by KORUS and perhaps other treaties?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Byran Cook, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 5:02pm

    Re: Well...

    damn right that's what I would do anything to divert the real issue

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    icon
    btrussell (profile), Feb 21st, 2014 @ 2:54am

    Pain In The Ass Citizens (PITAC)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Pragmatic, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 3:17am

    Re:

    Except that they are loyal to no country, just their corporations. That's what makes them so damn dangerous.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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