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.