USTR Claims 1,200 Meetings With Congress Just As Good As Actual Transparency

from the politicians:-the-new-common-man dept

USTR Michael Froman is trying to push the illusion that the TPP negotiations are transparent. In the past, various USTR spokespeople have made similar assertions, one of which is claiming that Congress, being so-called “representatives” of the public, are a perfectly suitable proxy for actual transparency. This ignores the fact that, while Congress may be able to view the TPP documents, it can’t actually make copies or take notes or even pass it along to staffers who may have more expertise to offer — to say nothing of the public all the way at the end of the food chain.

Of course, key special interest groups and key stakeholders have full access through a login to the USTR website, which allows them to view the documents at any time (and presumably take notes, disseminate, etc.), rather than be limited to asking the USTR for permission to view a trade agreement–one that not only affects the US and the US public, but several other countries around the world. Businesses that stand to benefit from the agreement have better access to both the documents and our representatives, and yet, the USTR continues to protest that it’s open and transparent.

Here’s the latest “see how open we are” statement from USTR Froman, the same guy who once touted the transparency of the trade negotiations from the comfort of a Hollywood studio.

“As we pursue this agenda, we will continue to consult with Congress and seek input from a wide range of advisors, stakeholders and the public. We have held over 1,200 meetings with Congress about TPP alone – and that doesn’t include the meetings we’ve had on T-TIP, TPA, AGOA or other trade initiatives,” he said. “Our Congressional partners preview our proposals and give us critical feedback every step of the way. We also ensure that any Member of Congress can review the negotiating text and has the opportunity to receive detailed briefings by our negotiators.”

Once again, the USTR is claiming secrecy-shrouded “meetings” with Congress to be synonymous with “seeking input from… the public.” This isn’t even remotely the same thing. Members of Congress aren’t free to disseminate the TPP documents or take notes, which ensures nothing substantial will be passed on to the public. Froman’s statement takes the public for idiots (something the USTR has done before), expecting them to believe their representatives will hear their voices over the crosstalk of legacy industries and special interest groups.

And the public still has no access, outside of leaked documents. Looking beyond the US-centric view, the stakeholders and public in other countries aren’t getting the same level of “transparency.” Sure, the USTR may be wearing down the local pols with incessant “meetings,” but there’s little to indicate there’s been as many meetings with foreign officials. There’s nearly 40% of the world’s GDP at stake here (according to the USTR’s numbers) and yet, only a very minute percentage of the world itself has any access to the TPP’s documents and negotiations.

As can be expected, Froman listed IP as the top priority for worldwide trade agreements.

“The United States is an innovative economy, and the Obama Administration is committed to protecting intellectual property (IP), which is vital to promoting and encouraging innovation and creativity,” he said. “Millions of American jobs rely on IP, and we will continue to use our trade agenda in 2014 to defend the IP rights of our creators and innovators while supporting the freedom of the Internet, encouraging the free flow of information across the digital world, and ensuring access to medicines, particularly by the poor in less developed economies.”

But that’s all a lie, especially the last part about “ensuring access to medicines.” The TPP is fighting cheap medicine on several fronts. It contains provisions that make it harder for local companies to produce generics by resetting the patent clock when the drug is introduced to foreign markets. The USTR has also directly told other countries that cheap, affordable medical care/products “fail to recognize the value” of overpriced US offerings.

The USTR isn’t interested in the free flow of information related to the TPP negotiations, so it’s highly unlikely it has any interest in “encouraging the free flow of information across the digital world.” The phrase “supporting the freedom of the internet” doesn’t sound right coming from an entity that was one of ACTA’s biggest supporters, and one backed by some of SOPA’s biggest supporters.

It’s a colossal joke, this supposed “transparency” of the USTR and TPP. It smells of old money being carried through revolving doors. When it comes to super-secret negotiations involving legacy players and massive corporations, Congress is hardly a reliable stand-in for the US public.

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Comments on “USTR Claims 1,200 Meetings With Congress Just As Good As Actual Transparency”

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zip says:

the new oligarchy

The biggest problem is that it seems throwing out existing congressmen and electing a new government won’t make a bit of difference. It’s already been done – more than once in recent years – and yet nothing ever seems to change.

It’s as if we’re back in the late 19th century, when the “Robber Barons” ruled unchallenged. Only this time, the situation looks a lot more permanent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: the new oligarchy

There’s no such thing as permanent.
Best case scenario: These fuckheads would either be in prison (most likely if the can no longer “deliver the goods” to their sugar babies), ending their own lives due to stress/failure/avoiding punishment, or hiding somewhere in Asia.
Worst case scenario: Everyone’s dead and the planet is uninhabitable.

Anonymous Coward says:


“…seek input from a wide range of advisors, stakeholders and the public.”

The definition of Stakeholder: an entity that can be affected by the results of that in which they are said to be stakeholders.

The USTR differentiates the stakeholders and the public; seeming to think that TPP will not affect the public in any way that they should be concerned about or are not already accustomed to. In the opinion of the USTR stakeholders are those who stand to GAIN, corporate interests, financially in a negotiation. For both the USTR and corporate interests the public is simply a resource to be taken advantage of.

When there is money on the table nobody listens to sheep.

Anonymous Coward says:

USTR has a specious construct that encourage private companies to “invest” in government, corporate interests over any other interest and a very strong closed door policy.

A lot of what they say is problematic because of that construct. It is like hearing NSAs legal wordgames.

“Partners in Congress” seems like a questionable use of word. They are trying to sound very cooperative (and given the OPs explaination falls far short of cooperation), but given the defining investment in government regime to get into the ITACs it can easily have a more problematic meaning…

The corporate interest over any other interest is hidden in what he didn’t mention. He didn’t say a word about companies in his mentioning of how they seek input. That is a clear indication that he considers himself to be the definitional representative of those.

“Real transparency” is impossible with a closed door policy. Therefore anyone outside their core, getting access to any kind of information is transparency to them.

I am sorry, but USTR is an abomination from a time long past. It needs to evolve and it needs to change to a broader representation of the actual interests.

David says:

The biggest lie:

The United States is an innovative economy, and the Obama Administration is committed to protecting intellectual property (IP), which is vital to promoting and encouraging innovation and creativity,

Innovation that is meaningful in the marketplace builds upon preexisting innovation. By clinging on to “intellectual property” basically forever, this strongly favors the incumbents. They can benefit from incremental innovation, but nobody else can afford to do so.

Since the incumbents dictate the market conditions, they will not permit innovation from third world countries except in those circumstances where those countries effectively work as dependent slaves under their working standards, for their work pay, and creating products that are sold in our markets for our prices.

Gabriel J. Michael (profile) says:

40% figure is meaningless

“There’s nearly 40% of the world’s GDP at stake here (according to the USTR’s numbers)”

That’s a misleading talking point everyone repeats without understanding what it means. The actual claim is that the countries involved in TPP negotiations represent 40% of the world’s GDP, which is very different.

All they’ve done is total up the GDP of the twelve countries. But obviously the TPP does not affect the entire GDP of a country – it will only affect a fraction of that. Precisely how much is impossible to know in advance because it will be affected by the concessions each country makes.

The TPP represents 40% of the world’s GDP in the same way that when I buy a cup of coffee, the two partners in the transaction represent millions of dollars in net worth (the coffee company plus me). That is, it’s a virtually meaningless number.

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