USTR Rejects Rep. Issa's Request To Observe TPP Negotiations

from the sorry,-we-can't-have-that-kind-of-transparency dept

So much for “transparency.” While the USTR continues to talk up its faux transparency as if it’s real transparency, the truth is always going to come out. Earlier this week, we wrote about how Rep. Darrell Issa had asked the USTR if he could come and observe the next round of TPP negotiations, taking place next week in San Diego. The USTR took all of two days to reject such a request, showing that it’s not at all interested in any sort of actual transparency with the Congress who is supposed to oversee issues of international commerce. The USTR told Issa he could only attend the “public” portions, like anyone else. In response, Issa put out the following statement:

“The U.S. Trade Representative has once again chosen to block Congress from observing negotiations for this vital trade agreement over which the House and Senate have fundamental constitutional responsibility.

“The TPP process should be transparent and open to oversight, not a secretive backroom negotiation. TPP agreements impact multiple sectors of the American economy–especially our ability to innovate and create new intellectual property, as well as preserve an open Internet.

“Congress has a constitutional duty to oversee trade negotiations and not simply act as a rubber stamp to deals about which they were kept in the dark. While I had hoped the TPP would permit me to observe this round of the negotiation process firsthand, our efforts to open TPP negotiations up to transparency will continue.”

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Comments on “USTR Rejects Rep. Issa's Request To Observe TPP Negotiations”

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78 Comments
PW (profile) says:

Unfortunately, given the recent attitude and irresponsible positions that Rep. Issa has taken with the “Fast & Furious” debacle, I can see this issue as being politicized as well. In other words, Issa has been showing a streak of political animosity towards the Administration, and I can imagine that his positions are now viewed with great apprehension by the various federal departments. While we may want to view his request as being on the side of angels, as clearly the transparency issue should be viewed, the fact that it’s him doing it may be what’s making the USTR very uncomfortable if not downright confrontational. Note that Issa’s gesture here may have nothing to do with his nobility, but rather with his desire to detract Administration’s objectives (however flawed).

This may be a case of context, where Rep. Issa’s interactions with the various federal departments is now being viewed in a larger context than the issues of any single department. Something to consider.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

There was an article on CNN where one of their regulars (LZ Granderson) wrote a piece about how we should stop digging so deeply into the government’s dirty laundry and using it to score partisan points.

This is absolute bullshit. It’s unfortunate that people are willing to try and blow minor things out of proportion to score points with voters, but you cannot discount criticism simply because it can be seen as partisan. Perhaps the sole advantage of our present two party system is that we can usually rely on there being someone to catch malfeasance by their opponents. I would hope Mr. Issa would be taking this stance if negotiations for TPP were occurring under a republican president, but as it is, we should be thankful someone is standing up for the people of this country, even if it can be written off as partisanship.

As for the ATF stuff… it is deeply partisan, but ignoring the initial issue (where from what I’ve read, it seems like ATF desperately wanted to interdict the gun shipments but weren’t legally allowed to) I think everyone, no matter how you feel about the president or congress, should be deeply disturbed whenever a president claims immunity from congressional oversight in any issue.

Beech (profile) says:

Congress should take a stand and pass a law making it legal to walk into Ron Kirk’s house and beat him until he starts answering questions with actual answers. If Kirk doesn’t like it, he can petition against it by sitting in a room with the bill and looking at it, with no pens, aides, ability to change it at all, etc.

If ever there was a time for congress to be petty and bitter it would be now!

Ron Kirk (Parody) says:

“The TPP process should be transparent and open to oversight, not a secretive backroom negotiation.”

Oversight and transparency don’t pay the bills. Oversight and transparency don’t get me nice cars, nice houses, and potential revolving door and campaign contribution favors. Back door dealings do. Congress wants to impose oversight but what do I get out of it? Absolutely nothing. So go away with this transparency nonsense.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t understand what the big deal is. Congress’s role is not to monitor negotiations but to vote on the resulting treaties. If he doesn’t like it, he should vote against it. And to be honest, it’s not transparency per se that it Issa’s issue- it’s the fact that the treaty touches on IP. I doubt he shows any interest in opaque negotiations that don’t deal with IP protection. Plus he already publicized a leaked, confidential draft of the IP text (curiously not other sections). That was not his to disclose. So now he wants to be in the inner sanctum?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Regulating commerce with foreign nations is specifically a power reserved for congress (Article 1, section 8), not the executive branch. The executive shouldn’t even be negotiating these trade agreements without congressional direction. It’s absolutely within Congress’s responsibility to call them on this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Anonymous,

I understand that you don’t like it. Though you say things you think make sense, they don’t. My point is the American public (and their representatives) have standing to make demands. The ground rules for negotiation by the parties (I don’t know what the hell that means so just copied it verbatim). Your only leg to stand on is you like calling out people by name even though you don’t provide your own (stupid troll trick I see in everyone of your posts).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Congressmen seldom know the debate history of the bills they vote on, unless they were on the committee or it is a very high profile bill. They (or likely staff) read the bill, consult with colleagues and party leadership, get lots of input from constituents and vote accordingly.

Ophelia Millais says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Why pretend Fast Track isn't coming back?

Your definition of “well before” is no more than 90 days, because Ron Kirk already said a few months ago that the White House is going to ask Congress to reinstate “Fast Track” trade promotion authority. TPP negotiations are being undertaken under the assumption it’s coming back, hence the secrecy, as it’s supposedly a “must have” for negotiations to conclude.

If and when Fast Track is reinstated, the secrecy and lack of public input will be part of the official, Congressionally approved process. Negotiation will conclude in secret, and the implementing legislation will be written and submitted by the administration (not Congress) at its leisure. Once submitted, it will have only 45 days to go through committee and 15 days to get a floor vote in both chambers. It can’t die in committee, it can’t be debated more than 20 hours (so no filibuster), and the bill cannot be amended at any point in the process; it will only be put to an up or down vote. This system is designed to minimize public debate and to minimize the risk of failure of the U.S. to live up to its obligations under the agreement.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think all of the agreements sought under this authority were approved by Congress. So although Fast Track has its critics on both sides of the aisle, they haven’t got the nerve to rally a majority to go against the president. To do so would embarrass the U.S. and undermine his ability to negotiate future agreements?the assumption, probably correct, being that the public and Congress would never approve all of the concessions that were made in order to get other countries to sign on to the agreement. So when Congress re-grants Fast Track in 2013, subsequent approval of the TPP and its non-Congressionally-authored implementing legislation is essentially guaranteed.

Given that Fast Track, by design, completely excludes the public interest from consideration until the very last step of the process, and given that Congress, after granting Fast Track in order to get agreements negotiated, is highly unlikely to then decline to vote-through the “fruits” of that authority, it seems pointless to argue about exactly how much time is available to the public to scrutinize the final draft and register objections.

Wyden and Issa can raise a stink about the process being non-transparent and antithetical to democracy, but they both voted for the Fast Track extensions and all of the resulting trade agreements and implementing legislation, and you can bet they’ll do it again. I see no reason to believe they’re serious about defending the public interest, here.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Why pretend Fast Track isn't coming back?

Ron Kirk already said a few months ago that the White House is going to ask Congress to reinstate “Fast Track” trade promotion authority. TPP negotiations are being undertaken under the assumption it’s coming back…

CRS Report for Congress RL33743: ?Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) and the Role of Congress in Trade Policy? by J. F. Hornbeck, Specialist in International Trade and Finance, and William H. Cooper, Specialist in International Trade and Finance, Congressional Research Service, April 7, 2011

The Elements of TPA

Through TPA/fast track, in its various iterations, Congress has sought to achieve four major goals in the context of supporting trade negotiations: (1) to define trade policy priorities and to have those priorities reflected in trade agreement negotiating objectives; (2) to ensure that the Executive Branch adheres to these objectives by requiring periodic notification and consultation; (3) to define the terms, conditions, and procedures under which the President may enter into trade agreements and under which the respective implementing bills are approved; and (4) to reaffirm Congress?s overall constitutional authority over trade by placing limitations on the trade agreements authority.?.?.?.

Negotiating Objectives

Congress exercises its trade policy role, in part, by defining trade negotiation objectives in TPA legislation. In the 2002 TPA, Congress made clear that trade is an important aspect of U.S. foreign economic and security apolicy because it generates broad benefits for the United States and the global economy. To take the fullest advantage of these benefits, Congress, drawing on its constitutional authority and historical precedent, defined the objectives that the President is to pursue in trade negotiations. Although the Executive Branch has some discretion over implementing these goals, they are definitive statements of U.S. trade policy that the Administration is expected to honor, if it expects the trade legislation to be considered under expedited rules. For this reason, trade negotiating objectives stand at the center of the congressional debate on TPA.

Congress establishes trade negotiating objectives in three categories: (1) overall objectives; (2) principal objectives; and (3) other priorities. These begin with broadly focused goals that encapsulate the ?overall? direction trade negotiations are expected to take, such as enhancing U.S. and global economies. Principal objectives are far more specific and provide detailed goals that Congress expects to be integrated into trade agreements, such as reducing barriers to various types of trade (e.g., goods, services, agriculture, electronic commerce); protecting foreign investment and intellectual property rights; encouraging transparency, fair regulatory practices, and anti-corruption; ensuring that countries protect environment and labor conditions and rights; providing for an effective dispute settlement process; and protecting the U.S. right to enforce its trade remedy laws. Objectives also include an important obligation to consult Congress, discussed in detail below.

In the past, language defining trade negotiating objectives has been highly contested, contributing to the 2002 renewal controversy in which TPA passed virtually along partisan lines and by only the narrowest of margins. This controversy reflects the importance of TPA negotiating objectives as a template for future trade agreements negotiated under these guidelines.?.??.

Ophelia Millais says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Why pretend Fast Track isn't coming back?

So you’re saying Fast Track provides for lots of oversight and we shouldn’t worry our pretty little heads about it?

Weak Congressional oversight is weak. The record on what actually happens when TPA is granted stands for itself.

While we’re quoting…

Core Aspects of Fast Track Trade-Authority Delegation

…An advisory-committee system was established to obtain private sector input on trade-agreement negotiations from presidentially appointed advisors. [Public Law 93-618 ? 135.] This system is organized by sector and industry and included 700 advisors comprised mainly of industry representatives. Throughout trade talks, these individuals obtained special access to confidential negotiating documents to which most members of Congress and the public have no access. Additionally, they have regular access to executive-branch negotiators and must file reports on proposed trade agreements. The Fast Track legislation listed committees for numerous sectors, but not consumer, health, environmental or other public interests. [“Trade Advisory Committees: Privileged Access for Polluters,” Public Citizen Report, December 1991. Labor was mentioned in the statute and a labor advisory committee was established. In the 1984 Fast Track (Public Law 98-573 ? 306(c)(2)(A)), a new advisory committee was added for representatives of state and local governments and their associations. Lawsuits in the 1990s resulted in establishment of a Trade and Environment advisory committee, but it was comprised of equal numbers of industry- and environmental-group representatives, deadlocking its reports and eventually causing some of the environmental representatives to resign. See “White House Ordered to Hire Environmentalist,” Miami Herald, Jan. 22, 2003.]…

White House wants trade promotion authority: Kirk

The Obama administration plans to ask Congress this year to renew White House “trade promotion authority” so it can finish talks on an Asia Pacific trade pact and pursue other possible initiatives, the top U.S. trade official said… “We’ve got to have it,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee…

Kirk declined to say when the White House would make a formal request, but said it could need the authority by the end of the year because of its goal of concluding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement… Republicans and business groups have pressed the White House to seek renewal of trade promotion authority, which traditionally requires Congress to vote on trade agreements within 90 days and without any amendments. Representative Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican, said it was “critical” the White House have trade promotion authority so other countries know any agreements they make with the United States will not unravel during debate in Congress. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell welcomed Kirk’s comments and urged the White House to send up draft legislation and work with congressional leaders to schedule a vote on the measure…

Many Democrats have qualms about the legislation since it signals White House plans to negotiate more trade agreements. That is a divisive issue within the party because of opposition from labor groups. The legislation typically also contains detailed negotiating objectives the White House is expected to follow in trade talks. The Obama administration has been using the expired trade promotion authority as guidance for the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership talks…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Why pretend Fast Track isn't coming back?

So you’re saying Fast Track provides for lots of oversight and we shouldn’t worry our pretty little heads about it?

Not at all. The quoted portion of CRS Report RL33743 points out that initial Congressional debate and legislation setting out negotiating objectives is a very important part of the process of delegating negotiating authority to the President. That was the point of quoting that passage.

But after Congress has ?by law? delegated its authority to the President to pursue certain objectives, and further ?by law? appropriated certain sums from the treasury to provide means to exercise that delegated authority, then I do believe Congress has some duty to ensure that the President, and his subordinate officials, are spending the money on those lawful objectives?and not converting funds to some other purpose.

Ophelia Millais says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Why pretend Fast Track isn't coming back?

Ah, gotcha. I don’t yet know enough about it to know to what extent the procedural secrecy and lack of representation of the public interest derives from the objectives portion of the renewal legislation. Regardless, I’m extremely skeptical that 1. anyone in Congress will stick their neck out and take the administration to task for straying from whatever mandates and objectives are laid out in Fast Track legislation; and 2. that in the next renewal, they’ll impose any kind of objectives or procedures that would change the way the TPP is being negotiated.

The Reuters article I linked to suggests that Congress expects the administration to write the renewal legislation, and that the only part that might be reined in is its duration in order to prevent too many more trade agreements from sneaking in…but even then it would only be an issue taken up by a subset of Democrats, possibly not enough to matter. I’d say likely not enough to matter, because the moderates will give the president what he wants.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Why pretend Fast Track isn't coming back?

The Reuters article I linked to suggests…

Somewhat incidentally, your first link, The Rise and Fall of Fast Track Trade Authority, by Todd Tucker and Lori Wallach, Public Citizen, May 2009, contains this interesting snippet in the next, concluding chapter:

Finally, Obama’s USTR pick, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, is a Fast Track critic. According to the Dallas Morning News (3/8/02), Kirk blasted his Democratic primary opponent Ken Bentsen in the 2002 U.S. Senate race for casting “the decisive vote to give this trade bill a one-vote victory in the House of Representatives without any real guarantee of help for workers who lose their jobs because of trade.” (Moreover, Obama’s reported first pick for USTR ? Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) ? voted against Fast Track on three out of three occasions.?.?.?. )

(Emphasis added.)

Of course, the United States Trade Representative’s official position, blessed by his boss, may differ from his personal feelings.

At any rate, the Tucker and Wallach book was worth reading. Thanks for the link.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Erm…not impeached as that would not apply.

?High crimes? refers to offenses against the state?that is, what might be called ?political crimes?. Although, naturally, in the US, all ?political crimes? should always be informed by the light of the First Amendment.

In your opinion, is misappropriation or conversion of Treasury money, a ?high crime or misdemeanor??

Anonymous Coward says:

Issa’s 49th District southern boundary is 30 miles from the hotel and he serves on the House Oversight and House Judiciary committees. I don’t know why he thinks he’s special. I don’t hear Susan Davis (CA-53rd) whose district the meeting is held in nor anyone on Ways and Means (which has actual USTR oversight authority) making these demands. This treaty is negotiated by the executive branch and voted on by Congress. That’s the deal. If Issa wanted to be involved in international treaties then he should change jobs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

To vote upon something you know nothing about…….well i guess its a relief that congress will be given ample time to peruse the final draft and no nosensical bullshit like, if you dont support this your a terrorist, or if you dont pass this the kids will starve this christmas, or, sign right here mr president……..

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I don’t think this is intended to be a Treaty. This is meant to be an executive-congressional agreement.

If it were a treaty, the executive might have more authority to do this. But even treaties are supposed to be made with the ‘advice and consent of the senate’. (Followed by 2/3 senate concurring with the finalized treaty). I don’t recall that the USTR ever acting under the the advice nor consent of anyone beside the entertainment insiders.

As a congressional-executive agreement dealing specifically with the congressional power of foreign commerce, I think representatives have every right to say, ‘Hey, what do you think you are doing?’

Ophelia Millais says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes, it’s a CEA, but it’s being negotiated under the assumption that “Fast Track” trade promotion authority, which officially sanctions the lack of transparency and public input, is going to be reinstated before negotiations conclude. Ron Kirk has already publicly stated that the White House will be asking Congress to reinstate Fast Track before the end of the year, as it’s (according to him) a “must-have”.

These very same Congressmen who are asking “hey, what do you think you are doing?” all voted for Fast Track and the resulting trade agreements in the past. I can’t say I’m optimistic about what will happen this time around.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I don’t know why he thinks he’s special.

You don’t know why the Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government reform would be interested?

Oversight Committee Mission Statement

We exist to secure two fundamental principles. First, Americans have a right to know that the money Washington takes from them is well spent.?.?.?.

Article I, Section 9, Clause 7:

No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.

Anonymous Coward says:

I like how Congress is pussyfooting around Ron Kirk’s obvious disdain for them. It’s really cool how they can be insanely gungho and get things implemented like the Patriot Act, salary increases for themselves and other cool backroom deals, but when it comes time to attend to real issues like rogue trade negotiators, they send stupid letters and make stupid statements like

“…our efforts to open TPP negotiations up to transparency will continue.?

WOW. “Efforts to open up transparency.” Don’t crack the fucking whip and put Kirk in his place; no lets be all nice and keep asking politely because Kirk doesn’t answer to congress, they are equals or inferior to Kirk. Kirk isn’t responding politely or behaving in a manner befitting his role. Better not hurt Kirk’s feelings about his treasonous behavior and just keep letting him stick it to Congress’ voters.

Anonymous Coward says:

19 USC ? 3807 - Congressional Oversight Group

19 USC Chapter 24 – BIPARTISAN TRADE PROMOTION AUTHORITY

19 USC ? 3807 – Congressional Oversight Group

a) Members and functions

?.?.?.?.

(2) Membership from the House

In each Congress, the Congressional Oversight Group shall be comprised of the following Members of the House of Representatives:

. . . .

(B) The chairman and ranking member, or their designees, of the committees of the House of Representatives which would have, under the Rules of the House of Representatives, jurisdiction over provisions of law affected by a trade agreement negotiations for which are conducted at any time during that Congress and to which this chapter would apply.

?.?.?.?.

(4) Accreditation

Each member of the Congressional Oversight Group described in paragraphs (2)(A) and (3)(A) shall be accredited by the United States Trade Representative on behalf of the President as an official adviser to the United States delegation in negotiations for any trade agreement to which this chapter applies. Each member of the Congressional Oversight Group described in paragraphs (2)(B) and (3)(B) shall be accredited by the United States Trade Representative on behalf of the President as an official adviser to the United States delegation in the negotiations by reason of which the member is in the Congressional Oversight Group. The Congressional Oversight Group shall consult with and provide advice to the Trade Representative regarding the formulation of specific objectives, negotiating strategies and positions, the development of the applicable trade agreement, and compliance and enforcement of the negotiated commitments under the trade agreement.

(Emphasis added.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) and the Role of Congress in Trade Policy

CRS Report for Congress RL33743: ?Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) and the Role of Congress in Trade Policy? by J. F. Hornbeck, Specialist in International Trade and Finance, and William H. Cooper, Specialist in International Trade and Finance, Congressional Research Service, April 7, 2011

Notification and Consultation

The trade agreements authority is extended to the President provided he consults regularly with Congress, including the Congressional Oversight Group (COG) created in the 2002 trade act, whose members are accredited as official advisors to the trade negotiation delegations. Notification and consultation requirements have been expanded in each renewal of authority.?.?.?.

The congressional consultation process is a long-standing precedent and an integral part of TPA. It reflects Congress?s ongoing interest in ensuring that trade policy remains under the purview of the legislative branch by establishing in law opportunities to affect the nature and direction of trade negotiations. The effectiveness of the consultation process, however, has been questioned.?.?.?.

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