Senator Warren: If TPP Transparency Would Lead To Public Opposition, Then TPP Is Wrong

from the nicely-stated dept

It would appear that new Senator Elizabeth Warren is on the side of transparency when it comes the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. Sometimes it feels like Senator Wyden is the only one who cares about this issue, so it would be nice to have someone else step in as well. Following USTR nominee Michael Froman’s Senate hearings, Warren has sent a letter to the White House asking for its negotiating position on the TPP. The key point, which should be repeated over and over again is the following:

I have heard the argument that transparency would undermine the Administration’s policy to complete the trade agreement because public opposition would be significant. If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States. I believe in transparency and democracy and I think the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) should too.

This is actually in direct response to claims from the former USTR, Ron Kirk, who pointed to a failed trade agreement — the Free Trade Area of the Americas — which was handled in a much more open fashion as support for why the TPP must remain secret. But the reasoning there, as Senator Warren correctly notes, is ridiculous. If the trade agreement failed because the public opposed it, that should be seen as a good thing, because the government was stopped from going against the will of the people.

Warren’s overall letter is great. Here’s another snippet and the full text is embedded below.

President Obama made transparency and inclusion a centerpiece of his election, and in many areas, he has opened the doors of government to ensure that the product of governing can withstand public scrutiny and is not the product of back-room deal making.

While I have no doubt that the President’s commitment to openness is genuine, I am concerned about the Administration’s record of transparency regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Specifically, I am troubled by the Administration’s unwillingness to provide to the public the composite bracketed text relating to the negotiations. As you know, the composite bracketed text includes not only proposed language from the United States but also proposed language from other countries. These different proposals are brought together in one text, and negotiations focus on ironing out the various proposals and getting to agreement on common language. The lack of transparency in this area is troubling because, as you know, the bracketed text serves as the focal point for actual negotiations. I appreciate the willingness of the USTR to make various documents available for review by members of Congress, but I do not believe that is a substitute for more robust public transparency.

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Comments on “Senator Warren: If TPP Transparency Would Lead To Public Opposition, Then TPP Is Wrong”

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46 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Wyden and Warren + a few more provide for the 10% approval.

“Americans’ confidence in Congress as an institution is down to 10%, ranking the legislative body last on a list of 16 societal institutions for the fourth straight year. This is the lowest level of confidence Gallup has found, not only for Congress, but for any institution on record.”

http://www.gallup.com/poll/163052/americans-confidence-congress-falls-lowest-record.aspx

Androgynous Cowherd says:

A little wiki edit...

President Obama made transparency and inclusion a centerpiece of his election[that much is true], and in many areas, he has opened the doors of government to ensure that the product of governing can withstand public scrutiny[citation needed] and is not the product of back-room deal making[citation needed].

FTFY, Senator Warren.

horse with no name says:

Transparency has it's limits too

See, the problem that Ron Kirk was talking about is that any trade agreement isn’t going to please everyone all of the time. No matter what you do, horse trading means that some horses get traded.

In a totally transparent negotiation,any time something is even suggested, you will get an uproar from some group who isn’t entirely happy. If this happens every time you look for some space to negotiate on, you end up having your hands tied by political popularity contests. Essentially, if a trade agreement hurts big tobacco even slightly, the Senator for the great smoke states will stand up grandstand against the agreement, just to play politcal favor to his donors and electorate (who may work in that field).

What they don’t understand is that it is often just an opening move, a suggestion, a place where some action might happen, and not a finished product.

The result? 250 plus million back seat drivers, all screaming to drive a different direction at a different speed and crying “are we there yet?”. Nothing gets done.

Public consultation is nice, but you can’t get anything big done if you need to pretty much have a public referendum before you can even order lunch.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Transparency has it's limits too

It is better to have the agreement stalled for 100 years than to have only corporate interests included at the expense of the public ( you know, the ones that the government are supposed to represent). What are you afraid of, that Imaginary property will not be included after the real stakeholders see what is included and you won’t be able to do an end run around Congress and other contries existing IP laws to buy laws that only serve the legacy entertainment industry in the US.

horse with no name says:

Re: Re: Transparency has it's limits too

Can you contain yourself to one post?

It’s not a question of trading one groups interest at the expense of the public, rather it’s about not having to involve everyone in the country every time you want to make any sort of an offer or movement. Trade agreements are complicated things, and just like any negotiation, sometimes you give away a little here to get a little more there.

Kirk was just concerned (rightly so in my opinion) that too much transparency (aka constant reporting and updating and feedback looping) would end up killing any process. Any time you put anything on the table that might in any way impact any group, regardless of the getback on the other side, you would have to deal with an endless protest process.

It’s pretty silly to think of the idea of any negotiations working under that situation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Transparency has it's limits too

It’s pretty silly to think of the idea of any negotiations working under that situation

If the intent is to serve the aims of a few industries, like pharmaceuticals and media, then secrecy is required, but that is a hijacking of trade treaties to bypass democratic law making.

S. T. Stone says:

Re: Re: Re: Transparency has it's limits too

It’s not a question of trading one groups interest at the expense of the public, rather it’s about not having to involve everyone in the country every time you want to make any sort of an offer or movement.

So we send either one person or a small contingent of people (probably no larger than five) to represent the most important interest group (the public) in these agreements because these agreements will affect the general public and leaving that group?s concerns out of the picture does nobody any favors.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Transparency has it's limits too

That’s precisely how most of their laws get voted in. “Oh, wait, you gotta approve this for us; we’ve never done it before so you can’t prove it’s a disaster? What’s that? You’re telling us we can’t do this anymore? Well excuse me, but you approved this!”

horse with no name is furious that people are more in favour of due process.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Transparency has it's limits too

What a load of anti-democratic horse shit. Demanding the information necessary to see if those we elect are indeed representing us and not someone else is not ‘two bites of the apple.’ It’s the vital information necessary to do our jobs at the next election. If there’s no transparency there can be no accountability (which I know is the way you prefer your government to be: unaccountable).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Transparency has it's limits too

He acts like the public is, by law of nature, obligated to be ruled over and someone, by law of nature, is entitled to rule over us and so us having the privilege to vote for who rules over us somehow entitles them to do what they want with that power. What insanity.

No, being in a position of power, being voted in by the people, is a privilege that these politicians are not entitled to and if we are to grant such privileges we must demand transparency.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Transparency has it's limits too

Wait, so we don’t get two bites out of the apple meaning we can elect the people that represent us but those people should then be free to act in their own best interests? We don’t get to oversee their behavior and ensure that they are acting in the public interest? If they act against the public interest and we don’t know about it it’s fine?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Transparency has it's limits too

The government gets to get in power, they must then be transparent about their behavior. Politicians can’t have two bites out of the apple. We have no obligation to delegate our power to anyone and when we do we demand transparency. They can’t receive both power from the public and secrecy at the same time. Otherwise they should then receive no power and then they can be as secretive as they like. But for them to have it both ways isn’t acceptable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Transparency has it's limits too

Cpt Kirk is wrong, those things should have been flushed out before going to the table, that is what consensus means, there was no public debate, there was no public information, for decades now those things are decided behind closed doors and then presented to the public as something good as in “take it, leave it or else”.

It is time to say “fuck you”

The public have one big leverage, without them there are no effective enforcement of said rules.

You want to shove your rules down the throat of others?
Well, you can try, just don’t be surprised when people say no.

Another AC says:

Re: Re: Re: Transparency has it's limits too

Our governments work in transparency every day. Every law is public, every debate is public, every vote result is public.

And yet somehow they find a way to get things done. I don’t think trade negotiating transparency is nearly as ‘silly’ as you claim, not when we have examples of it working already elsewhere.

Another AC says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Transparency has it's limits too

And FWIW, I don’t get why people are reporting the original post to hide it – although the writing sounds like a regular critic, they are being civil and trying to make a well-reasoned argument. Although I disagree with it, it seems unfair to flag it.

Just sayin’.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Transparency has it's limits too

Good points, all.

I think the underlying problem, however, is that the public has no voice in the negotiations either directly or indirectly They are dominated by companies or company representatives. This results in a (reasonable, in my opinion) feeling that we, the people, need to oversee the whole deal. We cannot trust congress to know which horses are reasonable to trade away and which are deal-breakers.

I have a different solution: in my opinion, the people have no effective representation in the federal government right now. Under those circumstances, it is impossible to come to any legitimate treaty or international agreement.

So, until we fix the government, there should be no new treaties at all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Transparency has it's limits too

“It’s not a question of trading one groups interest at the expense of the public, rather it’s about not having to involve everyone in the country every time you want to make any sort of an offer or movement.

Holy shit… I thought we lived in a democracy?! Guess I better wake up?

btr1701 says:

Re: Re: Re: Transparency has it's limits too

Your reasoning rings hollow when all the IP maximalist industry reps are given a seat at the table, but the rest of us are shut out.

If the agreement needs to be negotiated in secret for the process to work, then it should be secret for everyone. Giving one side of the issue VIP access and completely shutting out the other is just corruption, plain and simple.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Transparency has it's limits too

The main problem is that this agreement seems to be mainly about appeasing media companies who already have too much of a say in legal matters.

If these groups had no influence here, I believe there would not be as much demand for full transparency.

These industries quite literally need to be told that they may not have more say than the people that they insist on wronging.

Not an Electronic Rodent (profile) says:

Re: Transparency has it's limits too

The result? 250 plus million back seat drivers, all screaming to drive a different direction at a different speed and crying “are we there yet?”. Nothing gets done.

A fair point, but rather artful in the context don’t you think since you’ve gone to the other extreme?
In the interests of transparency then, let me ask you:
What do you think the key aims are/should be in TPP?(i.e. the changes to trade agreements that are actually NEEDED)
Do you know whether these are in fact addressed in TPP?

Do you think it is better to have a trade agreement at any cost even if all but about 10,000 of the afore-mentioned 250M people end up getting out of the back of their locked van yelling “What the f*ck are we doing here?”?

Is this outcome better or worse than no additional trade agreement and how?

Do you think it is all or nothing or is there a way that public interest could be included without the 250M “back seat drivers? (And don’t say politicians represent the people because I’d like your answer based in reality please)

Since it is supposed to be a “secret” negotiation, is it right that those industries (and most of the afore mentioned “10,000 people” that like the destination) that benefit directly from them get to know and influence what happens?

Given the usual US strong-arming of such processes, it’s reasonably likely that the US economy will come out of it with some sort of net “win” even if most of the people in it get screwed. This is likely to be at the expense of many of the other countries concerned. Do you care?

The Real Michael says:

Re: Transparency has it's limits too

“Public consultation is nice, but you can’t get anything big done if you need to pretty much have a public referendum before you can even order lunch.”

In other words, the public, whom the TPP would affect, would not agree with the proposed measures, so let’s shut them out of the process? And what do you mean, “can’t get anything big done”? Big as in how? You mean like trampling on people’s rights in order to prop up their imaginary property?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Transparency has it's limits too

This argument sounds suspiciously like the ones used in opposition to allowing women to vote. I think this argument is dishonest at best, as that doesn’t stop laws from being written, since there are how many members of congress? They don’t always agree, by representing the public, and laws are still passed. Even laws fo groups in the minority get passed.

so what you are really saying is the public is too dumb to come to a consensus?I’m not sure 100% agreement by the public is necessary. But listening to the publics concerns and taking them into consideration and making compromises would be much better than dismissing the public out of hand.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Transparency has it's limits too

An agreement doesn’t have to please everyone to gain enough support to get passed. but if the agreement is so bad that it pleases no one then it should gain enough opposition to get stalled. The problem is that these bad agreements, that include making IP laws even more restrictive than they already are (which is ridiculous on the face, instead of fixing them so that they are reasonable), only please the corporate interests that lobby for them and provide these politicians with campaign contributions and revolving door favors in return. Those agreements should be blocked and you shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t get enough support to pass.

Anonymous Coward says:

the one other very important point that i didn’t see mentioned in her letter is that there is representation of corporations and industries that not only can review ALL OF THE TEXT BUT ALSO GIVE OPINIONS AND INPUT. that will benefit those industries and in particular, Hollywood and the US entertainment industries. this is supposed to be a ‘Trade Agreement’, it is not supposed to be yet another way of those industries being able to lock down everything concerning their music, movies and games etc and it is not meant to be an agreement centered on those industries with other bits and pieces chucked in for good measure!! also, it should not be so one sided as to benefit the USA over every other country concerned. there should be balance and without that, it becomes not an agreement but a dictated list of items for the benefit of just one nation, carried out under the threat of sanctions or worse!!

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