The Lies The USTR Is Spreading About Fast Track Authority To Push TPP Through Congress

from the don't-buy-it dept

With the introduction of fast track authority (also known as “trade promotion authority”) in Congress, by which Congress abdicates its constitutionally-granted sole power to regulate foreign commerce, the USTR (which gains that power) is out in force, spreading all sorts of lies about what this means. It’s not exactly encouraging when the organization that has been hiding all the details of the TPP agreement for years is now trying to push it forward by directly lying to the American public. It’s almost as if the USTR can’t be honest or people might realize that it’s spent the last few years pushing forward on an agreement designed to prop up old legacy businesses at the expense of the public and new innovators.

The USTR’s statement on the fast track proposal is full of lies, half-truths and misleading statements. Let’s look at a few.

TPA does not provide new power to the Executive Branch.

Hell yes, it does. Trade Promotion Authority gives the power of regulating foreign commerce directly to the USTR, rather than Congress. It allows the USTR to negotiate a “final” agreement with other countries, which Congress cannot seek to change, amend or fix. Instead, Congress can only give a simple “yes or no” vote on what the USTR comes back with. Without TPA, the USTR actually needs to engage Congress, and win its support and approval on everything within the agreement. That gives Congress — which is supposed to represent the public — a chance to make sure that (as the USTR has shown a proclivity to do) the agreement is not filled with ridiculous “gifts” for cronies and friends at the expense of the public and disruptive innovation.

TPA is a legislative procedure, written by Congress, through which Congress defines U.S. negotiating objectives and spells out a detailed oversight and consultation process for during trade negotiations.

If TPA didn’t tie Congress’ own hands, the USTR might have a point here. But it’s not true. While the TPA bill does officially “define” the negotiating objectives, those objectives listed in the current bill are basically the USTR’s own list of what it’s working on, reprinted by friends in Congress. And, honestly, how is it possible that it “spells out detailed oversight,” when what the bill really does is make sure that the USTR can give Congress whatever it comes up with and say “take it or leave it”? Without TPA, the USTR actually has to go convince Congress that what it’s been proposing (secretly and with no public review) is actually in the public interest.

Under TPA, Congress retains the authority to review and decide whether any proposed U.S. trade agreement will be implemented.

Misleading at best. Insulting to anyone with at least half a brain. Congress has significantly less authority under TPA to review and decide any trade agreement. That’s because without TPA, Congress can review and question different aspects, or introduce amendments and fixes to all the stuff that the USTR screwed up. With TPA, Congress can only give an up or down vote on the entire package. That means, as long as the USTR includes enough “pork” to outweigh the crap for the majority of Congress, it can get through a ton of dangerous proposals — like those we’ve already seen in the still officially “secret” intellectual property chapter.


TPA bills establish consultation and notification requirements for the President to follow throughout the trade agreement negotiation process – ensuring that Congress, stakeholders and the public are closely involved before, during and after the conclusion of trade agreement negotiations.

It’s tough to read this and not laugh. This is an out and out lie. And it’s a direct insult on the public. Remember, the TPP negotiations have been going on for years, and we still don’t officially know what’s in the TPP, other than what’s been leaked. The idea that the public is “closely involved” is an insult. The public is not involved at all, entirely by the choice of the USTR, which has chosen to keep them out. As for Congress? They’re also mostly in the dark. Yes, elected officials can go see the negotiating text, but they have to go to the USTR’s offices, and they’re not allowed to bring any staffers, make any copies or take any notes.

The USTR keeps pretending that because it will “meet with anyone who asks” that it’s being transparent. But transparency is not about listening to whoever knocks on your door. It’s about the other direction: it’s about providing information out to the public — something that the USTR has absolutely refused to do. The TPA does absolutely nothing to increase transparency, and actually gives the USTR fewer incentives to be transparent because now it knows there’s no real oversight any more.

The USTR is flat out lying here, and it’s a disgrace.

In addition to our congressionally mandated committees of industry and public sector advisers , the United States consults with all interested stakeholders at each trade agreement negotiating round and in between. We do this to share information and get views that make the negotiated product better. For TPP, these stakeholders have included representatives from academia, labor unions, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations. Under TPA, this activity would continue and be strengthened.

Misleading again. Yes, the USTR “shares” information, but only with a very small list of advisors — who almost exclusively come from old legacy businesses. Everyone else? The USTR’s response is to give them the middle finger. The claim about consulting with “interested stakeholders” at each round is also misleading. As we’ve covered in the past, at many (though not all) of the negotiating rounds, there would be an hour or two where “stakeholders” would have the opportunity to sit at a table and hope negotiators came to talk to them. Sometimes this would be done far away and at times when negotiators had better things to do — like eat lunch. Sometimes stakeholders were allowed to give presentations, but with no guarantee that any negotiators would attend.

As for using those meetings to “share information” — that’s again highly misleading. Again, the USTR has been negotiating the TPP for years and still has not released any information at all on what’s in it. What we know is what’s been leaked out, and that little that’s been leaked shows exactly why the USTR fears transparency and fears the public: because they’re crafting an agreement designed to protect a few corporate interests at the expense of just about everyone else.

An honest an forthright USTR wouldn’t fear the public, and it wouldn’t insult and lie to the public as is happening here. The USTR is trying to pull a fast one over on the American public. It’s negotiating an agreement in secret, pretending that it’s being transparent, and then encouraging Congress to give up its right to review the agreement (without even seeing it), with insulting promises that by doing so, that will create more transparency.

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Comments on “The Lies The USTR Is Spreading About Fast Track Authority To Push TPP Through Congress”

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CK20XX (profile) says:

Re: The good news

That may just accelerate mainstream media’s spiral into obsolescence. The three main 24-hour news networks (CNN, Fox, and MSNBC) already have reputations as the most unreliable sources of news in the country, and people have been gradually drifting away from TV in droves.

We should at least make sure that Stephen Colbert and/or Jon Stewart report on this though, I’ll grant.

andy says:

Re: Re: The good news

The more rope they are given the closer they come to hanging themselves, already copyright laws are completely ignored around the world, including the good parts, due to it being so overwhelmingly bad for everyone, including the content creators. In many countries around the world medicine patent laws are ignored to a great extent.

Eventually the governments around the world will realize that to get something passed and adhered to, they have no other option but to give a lot to the people and not just big business, the first real step they could take is the complete abolition of the copyright laws of all but big business. Then, they could stop the war on drugs and stop the slavery of so many people in for profit goals… How can a law be respected where a person sells a $5 bag of weed and is sentenced to 20 years with no chance of parole. This one instance that has been heard around the world is enough to show that the public really do need to take the country back from the likes of the republican and democratic parties who both promise everything everyone wants, but then fail to deliver when they are in a position to do so, damn they avoid even discussing their lies in public and have been known to arrest those that question them.

out_of_the_blue says:

So why do you leave out the corporations which benefit?

This is just political meandering pretending to be opposition to the corporatized globalist nightmare of TPP. You never actually analyze TPP, just shallowly gloss the politics of it, and most of that directed uselessly at USTR.

Your brief railing at corporatists seems to be over.

If you can free yourself for ten seconds from the indoctrination that even mention of the class struggle is communism, you’ll see that all forms of authoritarianism are simply The Rich waging class war.


Anonymous Coward says:

seems to me that another ‘ACTA’ protest is desperately needed and damn quick! something that i have never read is who actually organised the USTR? i mean, it didn’t just appear. someone(s) had to get it started. those that did, i bet, are all from those same ‘legacy industries’ that want to rule everything, everywhere. regardless of what happens with this particular ‘deal’ the ustr needs breaking up and no other body doing anything similar allowed to be formed. if deals are needed, for goodness sake, have them include everyone, not just those who have been running (and ruining) the world up to now!

Anonymous Coward says:


It’s tough to read this and not laugh. This is an out and out lie. And it’s a direct insult on the public.

We are past just insulting the Public, they all but say in actual words that America is full of stupid people and we all know it.

It is to the point where rage has to be “manufactured” to get people to budge from their apathetic life.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: No lies at all. It is all fine

TPA doesn’t provide “new” power since it was active during ACTA signing…
TPA does provide the described tools to congress.
Congress retains at least the authority to “decide” on an agreement. I guess the “review” is discussion in congress.
Having people “…involved before, during and after the conclusion of trade agreement negotiations…” is technically true if they hold a meeting immediately before signing, have public signing and right after signing hold another meeting since they technically only promise those things for the “conclusion”.
USTR does hold meetings with public etc. during negotiations. No lie there.

As you can see it is all above board. It is just that many people don’t understand what they read…

Anonymous Coward says:

Speaking only to the TPA, what you say long ago ceased to be a constitutional limitation between the Congress and the President when the Supreme Court basically struck down the Non-Delegation Doctrine…a doctrine that limited “legislating” to the Congress and “executing” to the President.

As noted, and quite importantly, TPA derives from an act of Congress, and significant rulemaking authority is delegated under the act to the President. You obviously do not like such a delegation, and neither do I. But for now, however, I see nothing in the works to change it.

Loki says:

That gives Congress — which is supposed to represent the public —

Except that Congress has stopped representing the public a long time ago, and anyone who still believes it does (with the exception of a VERY small handful, and I mean less than a dozen, of members) is just deluding themselves.

These agreements aren’t about “protecting” legacy industries, per se. What these agreements do is slowly codify a process that has been occurring for decades, and that is to make governments more or less what they are becoming, public relations arms of the larger corporations and industries. Fast Track Authority is just one of the ways Congress can alleviate themselves of the responsibility of letting this happen: “well we didn’t know, we didn’t do it”.

There was a roleplaying game that came out in 1987-88 called Shadowrun that was set in the real world of the 2050’s and 2060’s. The rules/mechanics for first edition rather sucked, but the mythos was awesome.

Not only did it do a good job of evolving things like language (mostly so it could get around the issue of swearing) and technology (things like cybernetics and robotics in particular), but also did a good job of creating a plausible explanation for how magic came back into the world (so it could have things like Dragons and elves). The thing it often got the most credit for was it’s evolution of the internet (remember back in the late 80’s you had no net really, you basically had the commodore or Apple IIe more or less), which it called the Matrix. In fact some of their early source books, especially those related to the Matrix, were written in a style (or at least had sections) that much resembled someone’s Facebook wall (a post, followed by commentary by various “users”).

However, I, personally, considered their crowning achievement (and do so more every year)to be the evolution of politics, whereby the larger “AA” and “AAA” megacorporations eventually made world governments subservient to their power. In fact, the “AA” and “AAA” corps eventually became immune to national governments and had their own separate Corporate Court (kind of like a Supreme Court, but made of judges from each of the “AAA” corporation – in fact that’s exactly how one became a “AAA” corp, by having enough clout to have a judge on the Corporate Court) which ruled on business matters and things like compensation to local government for damages and such from corporate disputes.

And while it’s just a game (although it did produce a novel line – among my favorite series – with well over 30 books) I can see some aspects of that game slowly coming to pass (fiction sometimes has a way of becoming reality), especially when I see stories like this. I can think of several stories here on Techdirt alone that exemplify this trend, a good example being this one on Chevron (in fact to quote from the article: ” Studying 162 corporate sovereignty cases, Van Harten reports that 37% of them involved reviewing a government action, while 44% were about disputed legislation or judicial decisions. In other words, in these cases, ISDS tribunals were clearly placing themselves above a country’s politicians and judges. Worryingly, Van Harten found:

there was little evidence that arbitrators demonstrated restraint in ways commonly adopted by domestic and international courts.“)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

If you let companies control civil court systems in one country, the rest will be infinitely easier to pressure under the veil of “competitive advantage” arguments. Since the “competition state” is the name of todays game, a Shadowrun scenario would not cause many raised eyebrows among politicians given the lobbying pressure.

The reason it is not already there is the companies being more concerned about making legislation more uniform internationally (and preferably more suited to the specific countrys industry than other countries industries! Change=bad and so on.). That is what “trade agreements” do and it is why companies are fighting so hard for getting them through. Imo. removing politicians and their influence from trade agreements and introducing a variety of NGOs would be a huge improvement.

Chris Brand says:


I think I understand this. You know those one-way mirrors ? If you’re on one side, they’re transparent. If you’re on the other, they’re opaque. The USTR is on the opposite side to the public, so they look at it and say “I don’t know what you’re talking about, it’s perfectly transparent”.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s basically International Corporate Law. I believe there’s also something about ‘corporate sovereignty’ in the TPP, where corporations can sue the Gov. (tax payers).

USTR has becoming even more of an abomination, concentrating all the power in the world into a select few of the largest corporations on this planet.

There’s going to be a lot of unhappy poor people in the world. This fail economics at it’s finest.

Anonymous Coward says:

t’s negotiating an agreement in secret, pretending that it’s being transparent, and then encouraging Congress to give up its right to review the agreement (without even seeing it), with insulting promises that by doing so, that will create more transparency.

Trade promotion authority has been around for 40 years?.. before most of you crybabies were born. Nothing like attacking the process when your attacks on copyright fail. Lets face it, if it weren’t your ability tp freeload at stake very few of you would know what TPA was or give a shit. You’re no different than any other extremists who think their issue is “special” and want addressed without consideration for the rest of the package. That’s pretty much why fast track authority is needed. One group would torpedo the treaty over abortion and access to birth control; another over Roundup-ready corn, another to save the whales. Congress lays out the objectives for the trade agreement and USTR tries to deliver. If they fail, it gets voted down. Watering down copyright will never be allowed to be the tail wagging the dog. Thanks for playing though.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Ah, nothing quite like the scrambling and insults from someone who’s scam seems to be unraveling on them… other laws are able to be discussed, debated over, publicly reviewed, all that ‘horrible stuff’, and yet somehow you think your precious trade agreement, that covers a ton of different stuff, deserves to get the special treatment because someone might object to some parts of it.

I suppose I can’t blame you, after the ACTA debacle, your lot saw what happens when the public gets wind of just what’s being done ‘in their name’ during ‘trade agreements’ like this, and naturally you’d rather avoid that happening again.

If the various parts of the ‘agreement’ were able to stand on their own merits, then you would have no problem letting them be debated, looked over, and approved on their own, the fact that you’re so insistent that it need to be an ‘everything or nothing’ case on the other hand, suggests that you know full well that if the public, and the politicians, were able to see, examine and debate the various sections, they would object strongly to numerous parts of the agreement, and toss those sections as the toxic corporate wishlist crap that they are.

And who can miss the hilarity of this statement, ‘Nothing like attacking the process when your attacks on copyright fail.’, right before, and after, a post filled with a ton of ad homs and insults, but no actual rebuttals to what’s discussed in the article. Comedy gold I tell you.

Also, gotta love how you’re attempting to spin those objecting to the government having their hands tied on potential copyright reform, by at the very least locking in the current copyright laws, as somehow trying to ‘weaken copyright’.

Copyright laws are already insane enough, something even the politicians are starting to realize, you don’t deserve yet more extensions to them, so objecting to a blatant attempt to lock in the current laws, if not make them worse ‘harmonizing’ them with other countries has nothing to do with ‘weakening’ copyright, and everything to do with people wanting the law brought back to what it was supposed to be about, which is serving the public, not corporations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“And who can miss the hilarity of this statement, ‘Nothing like attacking the process when your attacks on copyright fail.’, right before, and after, a post filled with a ton of ad homs and insults, but no actual rebuttals to what’s discussed in the article. Comedy gold I tell you.”

I think that the point was that the failure to substantively roll back copyright has led opponents to attack the process by which trade agreements have customarily been done for the past 40 years.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

‘Substantive’ rollbacks on copyright? Probably not going to happen, or at least not going to happen soon, given there are some real heavy hitters(politically and financially, though these days the two are pretty much interchangeable) who would resist, strongly, any attempt to lessen or ‘weaken’ copyright from where it is currently(as they made abundantly clear when they threw such a massive fit over possible fair use expansions for disabled people).

However the point I was trying to make is that for the first time in a good while, politicians seem to be willing to at least consider the problems copyright law has in it’s current form, maybe even reign it in a little so that it’s more in line with what’s it’s supposed to be doing, and even that possibility has for the ‘IP is the most important thing in the world’ lot running scared, and they’re trying to lock in the current laws via ‘trade agreements’ so that it’s not possible to reform them without violating the newly minted ‘agreement’.

Not only that, but if history is any indication, ‘trade agreements’ like this are the chief way IP maximalists in the US use to increase and expand IP law, by including heavier, more extreme versions of IP law in a trade agreement, and then saying that the US needs to ‘harmonize’ their laws to match, which leads to yet another expansion of the law, all without any real debate or examination of the issue by the people who are supposed to be deciding the laws.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Not only that, but if history is any indication, ‘trade agreements’ like this are the chief way IP maximalists in the US use to increase and expand IP law, by including heavier, more extreme versions of IP law in a trade agreement, and then saying that the US needs to ‘harmonize’ their laws to match, which leads to yet another expansion of the law, all without any real debate or examination of the issue by the people who are supposed to be deciding the laws.

Generally, the US has simply tried to bring other countries copyright laws up to the level of protection afforded under US law. I don’t know of examples where a copyright provision in a trade agreement required a change to US copyright law. You imply that the US has used the treaty process to “increase and expand IP law”; I’d appreciate an example, because I think you are wrong.And perhaps you can examine the leaked IP chapter and point out what proposals would require the US to “increase and expand IP law”;

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

In the Seventies the US Moved to extend copyright laws to match the Bearn Convention, then they did something that does not happen in the other english speaking countries, they made the law retrospective that is apply the law so things that got into the public domain reverted back to the previous copyright holder. that was outright expropriation of public resources for private gain.

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