Over 130 Representatives Spell Out Their Concerns With TPP In Letter To Ron Kirk

from the where's-the-transparency dept

As the TPP negotiations progress, concern about the almost total lack of transparency (and the USTR’s laughable statements to the contrary) is starting to gain significant attention. Most recently, we wrote about Rep. Darrell Issa’s request to observe the next round of negotiations, and before that, Senator Ron Wyden’s quizzing of Ron Kirk about transparency during a senate hearing. So far, the USTR has managed to brush this off by claiming everybody else in Congress was happy—but, like almost everything the USTR says about TPP, that too is blatantly untrue. Over 130 members of the House of Representatives have now chimed in by signing on to a much longer open letter addressed to USTR Ron Kirk, expressing specific concerns about the TPP process.

The letter strongly asserts Congress’ required role in these kinds of negotiations, and then goes on to make several specific requests—while also once again underlining the fact that a few key interest groups are getting special treatment while everyone else is excluded, including Congress.

Under the trade advisory system, representatives from over 600 business interests have such access to both USTR negotiators and the negotiating text. However, American small business, civil society, and other interests who have a direct and long-term interest in the outcome of these negotiations have little meaningful input. In the past, most important U.S. trade agreement texts have not been made available until after they were signed and changes were all but impossible. If Congress and the public are not informed of the exact terms of the agreement until the conclusion of the process, then any opportunity for meaningful input is lost.

Given the laudable priority given to improved government transparency since the first day of the Obama Administration, we are troubled that there may be needless secrecy and over-classification of documents associated with the release of drafts of the pact’s various chapters, or even providing a summary of each of the Administration’s policies that they have proposed to other countries. Press reports and a recent USTR letter indicate that the negotiating parties signed a confidentiality agreement in 2010 imposing heightened secrecy for the process. Accordingly, we ask that you provide us with a copy of the confidentiality agreement and an explanation as to what role USTR or other governments played in crafting it.

Fortunately, there is precedent for greater openness which could bring needed daylight to this process. For example,

  • a full draft text of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) was released in 2001 during negotiations on that 34-nation pact;
  • the World Trade Organization now posts composite negotiating texts on its website, including various texts during the Doha round negotiations; and
  • a draft text of the recently-completed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) was released.

We would urge you to adopt a similar approach in the context of TPP FTA talks, especially now that there are draft texts with bracketed provisions for most chapters of the prospective pact. To the extent that secrecy provisions in the confidentiality agreement preclude the unilateral release of negotiating text, then we would urge you to work with our TPP negotiating partners to obtain their consent to do so and inform us if there are countries that are unwilling to cooperate.

With regard to U.S. proposals, we request that you provide us and the public with summaries of the proposals offered by the U.S. government, so we have a clearer idea of what positions are being advanced on behalf of the U.S. citizenry. Full U.S. proposal texts should be made available not only to Members of Congress, but also to their staffs. To the extent that classification of documents is required, then we would urge you to make them available to all staff with appropriate security clearances.

At this point, it should be clear to Ron Kirk that Congress knows he’s trying to quietly negotiate the entirety of TPP behind closed doors, and they aren’t happy. Whether or not that will have any impact on the straight-faced claims of “unprecedented transparency” coming from him and his office is less of a sure thing, but it seems like Congress is not prepared to let him get away with that forever.

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Comments on “Over 130 Representatives Spell Out Their Concerns With TPP In Letter To Ron Kirk”

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gorehound (profile) says:

Re: Senators Should Pledge Now to Vote Against TPP

See US Constitution Article I Section 8 for the Commerce Clause.
Clearly States right on top that the Senate shall regulate Commerce Treaties with Foreign Nations, States, and Indian Tribes.
Also see:
“In Article II, Section 2, the executive branch is granted a specific power: “He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur…” Treaties, yes, but those “treaties” were supposed to be about things like military alliances and such. When it comes to commerce… er, nope. That’s Congress’ mandate alone. Back to the Constitution and Article I, Section 8, where it clearly states that Congress is granted the power “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations.”

So Basically what has happened is the USTR & Ron Kirk have been negotiating a Commerce Treaty with Foreign Nations and have done this with the President’s knowledge and approval WITHOUT GOING BEFORE OUR CONGRESS.
USTR & Ron Kirk are clearly doing something that anyone with any intelligence at all can see.All you have to do is go Online, to your Library, or to your books to look at a Copy of Our Great Constitution.The writing is right there !!!
USTR & Ron Kirk you have broken our most sacred Laws.You should be investigated and tried before a Court of your Peers.
You are criminals !

The Mighty Buzzard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Senators Should Pledge Now to Vote Against TPP

Problem is, nothing is regulated unless Congress signs off on it. Until they do, it’s just “an idea the Executive had”, same as “the President’s Budget”.

Somehow though Congress has managed to convince itself that it should actually give a happy damn when the Executive sends it proposals for bills. I certainly wouldn’t but then I’d never get elected either since I’m not a liar or willing to sell my principles to the highest bidder.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Senators Should Pledge Now to Vote Against TPP

Maybe I’m being cynical but I don’t think this letter is really addressed to Ron Kirk. I think a bunch of reps saw how the MPAA treats the politicians they buy off and they want in on it. They’ll grandstand here until the MPAA buys them too. And maybe this is a good thing. Piracy and dwindling revenues won’t kill them off, bribing politicians will. It’s gotta be expensive paying off that many people.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Not to derail the conversation, but now that Universal Mandate has been found to be constitutional, how long before the “copyright industry” pushes Congress/President Obama to pass a law which mandates consumers only by their movies on shiny metal discs? Or even better, just turn over a portion of your paycheck each month to the entertainment industry whether or not you consume their services?

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Some of us already do that

With the “tax” on blank media in Canada we basically do turn over a portion of our paycheque each time we buy a blank CD or DVD or any reason. It doesn’t matter what we’re going to do with the media all that matters is that the “content industry” gets paid as, apparently, so to (some) artists.

It’s coming, don’t worry, it’s coming!

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Some of us already do that

It’s coming, don’t worry, it’s coming!

And now the cable companies can complain about their customers cutting the cords, and the government will tell everyone they have to buy cable too.

With the “tax” on blank media in Canada we basically do turn over a portion of our paycheque each time we buy a blank CD or DVD or any reason. It doesn’t matter what we’re going to do with the media all that matters is that the “content industry” gets paid as, apparently, so to (some) artists.

At least we have the stupid “music cds” here, where we can decide if we want to pay the tax or not. I suspect you are right…the industry seems to take every “good” law for itself it introduces in one place and spread it out everywhere. I suspect you’re right though…it is coming.

Cory of PC (profile) says:

I believe this is a little off-topic, but I might consider making my own presidential campaign for the next election in 2016. If, somehow miraculously, I win the office, one of my first orders of business is to get rid of the people like Ron Kirk and tried them for something (not sure what the court will take, but if treason is “good” enough). Once I have them out, I could either appoint someone that will make sure nothing like this happens again, or I could abolish it to prevent anything like this happening from again.

… Yeah, I’m not going to get away with something like that, but hey if these people aren’t following the Constitution, then why can’t I?

Anonymous Coward says:

the most important thing is still missing from this letter. it should have contained a concise threat that would definitely be carried out if there is non-compliance by Kirk and/or anyone from USTR that the whole process would be closed down by Congress and all funding pulled. going softly softly down a polite route is all well and good when you are dealing with an honest person. it definitely is not going to work in this scenario!!

Brent (profile) says:

i wrote to the Open Initiative of the USTR website and told them their idea of ‘transparency’ was a joke and asked them to quit their jobs so competent people could step in.

Previously, i submitted a ‘complaint’ thru the White House’s open government page asking Obama to force the USTR to share information with Congress specifically around the TPP negotiations. That email was forwarded to my state senator who actually responded and said that he has heard those concerns before and will do his best to represent me and my concerns for privacy.. It’s obnoxious that my complaint was forwarded to my state senator (but at least he responded!) and ignored by the office that holds authority over the office that my complaint referenced but w/e. I didn’t expect much b/c i’m just a pawn. someone push me to my work square, now!

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