by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
ron kirk, ron wyden, tpp, transparency, ustr


USTR Gives MPAA Full Online Access To TPP Text, But Still Won't Share With Senate Staffers

from the transparency? dept

US Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk continues to insult the intelligence of the Senate. During a recent hearing Senate hearing at which Kirk appeared, Senator Ron Wyden once again quizzed Kirk about the lack of transparency the USTR has (video link, key point starts around 89 minutes and 30 seconds) regarding the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. Except, this time, Wyden went one step further. He pointed out that while many in Congress have no real access to the document, special interest company representatives are given special logins to the USTR's site, allowing them full access to the text of the document. We've pointed out many times before that Kirk seems to have given himself over entirely to the special interests, and this kind of access only shows how true that is. But where Kirk returns to being a disingenuous apologist for these special interests is to argue that this is no big deal because anyone in Congress can see the document too.
Wyden: What I've learned is that when trade agreements are negotiated, industry advisors sit in a far stronger position than virtually everyone in the Congress. For example, an industry advisor from the Motion Picture Association can sit at their desk with a laptop, enter their username and password, and see the negotiating text of a proposed trade agreement. Virtually no one in the Congress has the ability to do that. How is that right?

Kirk: Well, Senator, I want to make it plain, that it's not just industry, but it's all of the members of our trade advisory commissions which are established by this Congress, and they're cleared advisors, they have security clearance and they represent a broad range of interests from both industry and environmental groups, business groups.... Every member of Congress, any member of Congress, that wants to see the text of a trade agreement we're negotiating has the ability to do so, as long as we're doing so in a secure environment that's private, so I would only offer that one clarification that any elected official in this body has the ability to see the same text as any of those cleared advisors.
Kirk's answer is insulting in how misleading it is. He chooses his words very carefully, so let's break this down to expose why Wyden is concerned, and why Kirk's answer is no answer at all. Remember, folks on the MPAA and other "industry advisors" (of which there are no internet company representatives) have a direct login, so they can access the latest negotiating docs wherever they'd like. Kirk's response, in which he claims that any member of Congress can see the same text is technically true, but it is not the same level of access. What Kirk meant is that any member of Congress can go to the USTR offices by themselves and be shown a copy of the negotiating text on a so-called "read and retain basis." That means: no notes, no copies, no staff -- even staff that have all the necessary "security clearance" as Senator Wyden himself found out when he had a trade expert on his staff obtain the necessary security clearance, only to find that the USTR denied him access to the documents.

So, let's compare: the MPAA and other industry groups can log into a website at their own convenience. They are even allowed to (with certain limitations) share parts of the text with others, supposedly for the sake of getting an "analysis" of what the text means. But when a Senator -- who is the chair of the Senate subcommittee on International Trade -- wants to take a look at the same document, he has to go to a "private room" where he will be shown the document, but not allowed to make copies, take notes or bring along his own staff expert on the matter.

Who does it sound like Ron Kirk is listening to more in this case? The MPAA? Or the Senator who's supposed to have oversight concerning the agreement. I tend to think the word "corrupt" is thrown around too easily, but at this point, is there any way to look at this situation and not judge it to be a case of massive corruption?

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jun 2012 @ 6:12am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: It sounds like someone needs to be fired

    I'm not so sure you're right Chubby. In any event, there are a number of other sources that state it is an executive agreement. Reading the letter sent to the USTR seems to also imply that it is an executive agreement as well:

    Dear Ambassador Kirk:
    We write regarding the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, a regional free trade agreement proposal touted as a model for all future U.S. trade and investment agreements. We are concerned that this process has excluded both Members of Congress and key stakeholders. As a result, groups essential to the success and legitimacy of any agreements are not being provided the opportunity to provide meaningful input on negotiations that have broad policy ramifications.

    In the past, most U.S. trade agreement texts have not been made available until after they were signed. As a result, changes were all but impossible. If Congress and the broader public are not informed of the exact terms of the agreement until the conclusion of the process, then the opportunity for meaningful input is lost. The lack of transparency and input makes passage of trade agreements more contentious and controversial.

    Extensive consultations with Congress and stakeholders are essential because of the unprecedented scope of these negotiations. Indeed, the negotiations USTR is pursuing will create binding policies on future Congresses in numerous areas where there is significant public interest, including policies related to labor, environment and natural resources, land use, food, agriculture and product standards, intellectual property rights, state-owned enterprises and government procurement policies, as well as financial, healthcare, energy, telecommunications and other service sector regulations. In an effort to ensure full public disclosure and consultation, we request that the USTR provide the public with detailed information and consistent updates on what USTR is seeking in the TPP on these matters of broad public interest.

    One additional area of concern is copyrights. The significant concerns that bills like Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) met from the public, underscore how unsettling such matters can become without a broad consultative process. The copyright language in the TPP may not mirror the approach of SOPA and PIPA, but due to the secrecy surrounding the TPP there is no guarantee that it will not. Since the terms will only be made public after an agreement is signed, the stakes are too high to exclude important stakeholders and Congress from the negotiation process.

    Therefore, we request that you expand the consultation process by broadening the scope of the Industry Trade Advisory Committee (ITAC) for Intellectual Property Rights to include key stakeholders advocating for internet freedom as well as right-holders. A separate committee to address these concerns should be given consideration as well.

    We believe these recommendations would demonstrate a commitment to this Administrationís goals of making the federal government more transparent and responsive. We look forward to discussing these issues with you.


    Sherrod Brown, U.S. Senator
    Ron Wyden, U.S. Senator
    Jeff Merkley, U.S. Senator
    Robert Menendez, U.S. Senator

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