Over 130 Representatives Spell Out Their Concerns With TPP In Letter To Ron Kirk

from the where's-the-transparency dept

As the TPP negotiations progress, concern about the almost total lack of transparency (and the USTR's laughable statements to the contrary) is starting to gain significant attention. Most recently, we wrote about Rep. Darrell Issa's request to observe the next round of negotiations, and before that, Senator Ron Wyden's quizzing of Ron Kirk about transparency during a senate hearing. So far, the USTR has managed to brush this off by claiming everybody else in Congress was happy—but, like almost everything the USTR says about TPP, that too is blatantly untrue. Over 130 members of the House of Representatives have now chimed in by signing on to a much longer open letter addressed to USTR Ron Kirk, expressing specific concerns about the TPP process.

The letter strongly asserts Congress' required role in these kinds of negotiations, and then goes on to make several specific requests—while also once again underlining the fact that a few key interest groups are getting special treatment while everyone else is excluded, including Congress.

Under the trade advisory system, representatives from over 600 business interests have such access to both USTR negotiators and the negotiating text. However, American small business, civil society, and other interests who have a direct and long-term interest in the outcome of these negotiations have little meaningful input. In the past, most important U.S. trade agreement texts have not been made available until after they were signed and changes were all but impossible. If Congress and the public are not informed of the exact terms of the agreement until the conclusion of the process, then any opportunity for meaningful input is lost.

Given the laudable priority given to improved government transparency since the first day of the Obama Administration, we are troubled that there may be needless secrecy and over-classification of documents associated with the release of drafts of the pact’s various chapters, or even providing a summary of each of the Administration’s policies that they have proposed to other countries. Press reports and a recent USTR letter indicate that the negotiating parties signed a confidentiality agreement in 2010 imposing heightened secrecy for the process. Accordingly, we ask that you provide us with a copy of the confidentiality agreement and an explanation as to what role USTR or other governments played in crafting it.

Fortunately, there is precedent for greater openness which could bring needed daylight to this process. For example,
  • a full draft text of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) was released in 2001 during negotiations on that 34-nation pact;
  • the World Trade Organization now posts composite negotiating texts on its website, including various texts during the Doha round negotiations; and
  • a draft text of the recently-completed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) was released.
We would urge you to adopt a similar approach in the context of TPP FTA talks, especially now that there are draft texts with bracketed provisions for most chapters of the prospective pact. To the extent that secrecy provisions in the confidentiality agreement preclude the unilateral release of negotiating text, then we would urge you to work with our TPP negotiating partners to obtain their consent to do so and inform us if there are countries that are unwilling to cooperate.

With regard to U.S. proposals, we request that you provide us and the public with summaries of the proposals offered by the U.S. government, so we have a clearer idea of what positions are being advanced on behalf of the U.S. citizenry. Full U.S. proposal texts should be made available not only to Members of Congress, but also to their staffs. To the extent that classification of documents is required, then we would urge you to make them available to all staff with appropriate security clearances.

At this point, it should be clear to Ron Kirk that Congress knows he's trying to quietly negotiate the entirety of TPP behind closed doors, and they aren't happy. Whether or not that will have any impact on the straight-faced claims of "unprecedented transparency" coming from him and his office is less of a sure thing, but it seems like Congress is not prepared to let him get away with that forever.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    ken (profile), Jun 28th, 2012 @ 7:14am

    Senators Should Pledge Now to Vote Against TPP

    What members of Congress needs to do is pledge to vote against any TPP agreement if there is not more transparency. Let them know that if USTR insists on secrecy and keeping things away from Congress that all their work will be of not.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Glen, Jun 28th, 2012 @ 7:21am

    "Given the laudable priority given to improved government transparency since the first day of the Obama Administration"

    I'm sorry, but that made me chuckle. This administration hasn't been any more transparent than any other administration.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    ken (profile), Jun 28th, 2012 @ 7:28am

    Re:

    Obama has been more secretive than Bush and has denied more Freedom of Information requests than Bush. Obama also has classified more material that would not have been under previous administrations.

    http://articles.latimes.com/2010/mar/21/nation/la-na-ticket21-2010mar21

     

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  4.  
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    Richard (profile), Jun 28th, 2012 @ 7:32am

    When even ACTA

    When even ACTA is being held up as an example of good practice you should know you are in trouble. As has been said here before "it's like being called a Luddite by the Amish"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Donnicton, Jun 28th, 2012 @ 7:36am

    Re: Re:

    Don't forget trying to cover for Holder on Fast and Furious with the blanket of "Executive Privilege".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 28th, 2012 @ 7:46am

    Would the internet had been invented by corporations, access to every site would have been pay-for and the internet would be gone by now. We're so lucky it took so long to the legacy business actors to wake up to it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    ltlw0lf (profile), Jun 28th, 2012 @ 7:49am

    Not to derail the conversation, but now that Universal Mandate has been found to be constitutional, how long before the "copyright industry" pushes Congress/President Obama to pass a law which mandates consumers only by their movies on shiny metal discs? Or even better, just turn over a portion of your paycheck each month to the entertainment industry whether or not you consume their services?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    Cory of PC (profile), Jun 28th, 2012 @ 7:49am

    I believe this is a little off-topic, but I might consider making my own presidential campaign for the next election in 2016. If, somehow miraculously, I win the office, one of my first orders of business is to get rid of the people like Ron Kirk and tried them for something (not sure what the court will take, but if treason is "good" enough). Once I have them out, I could either appoint someone that will make sure nothing like this happens again, or I could abolish it to prevent anything like this happening from again.

    ... Yeah, I'm not going to get away with something like that, but hey if these people aren't following the Constitution, then why can't I?

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 28th, 2012 @ 7:57am

    the most important thing is still missing from this letter. it should have contained a concise threat that would definitely be carried out if there is non-compliance by Kirk and/or anyone from USTR that the whole process would be closed down by Congress and all funding pulled. going softly softly down a polite route is all well and good when you are dealing with an honest person. it definitely is not going to work in this scenario!!

     

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  10.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jun 28th, 2012 @ 8:00am

    Re:

    You aren't the only one. Everybody except the usual critics probably chuckled. Or shook their heads in disbelief.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    Brent (profile), Jun 28th, 2012 @ 8:20am

    i wrote to the Open Initiative of the USTR website and told them their idea of 'transparency' was a joke and asked them to quit their jobs so competent people could step in.

    Previously, i submitted a 'complaint' thru the White House's open government page asking Obama to force the USTR to share information with Congress specifically around the TPP negotiations. That email was forwarded to my state senator who actually responded and said that he has heard those concerns before and will do his best to represent me and my concerns for privacy.. It's obnoxious that my complaint was forwarded to my state senator (but at least he responded!) and ignored by the office that holds authority over the office that my complaint referenced but w/e. I didn't expect much b/c i'm just a pawn. someone push me to my work square, now!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    New Mexico Mark, Jun 28th, 2012 @ 8:43am

    Re: Re:

    Oh yeah. That's diplomacy in action.

    "Diplomacy is the art of saying 'nice doggie' until you can find a rock." Will Rogers

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    gorehound (profile), Jun 28th, 2012 @ 8:46am

    Re: Senators Should Pledge Now to Vote Against TPP

    See US Constitution Article I Section 8 for the Commerce Clause.
    Clearly States right on top that the Senate shall regulate Commerce Treaties with Foreign Nations, States, and Indian Tribes.
    Also see:
    "In Article II, Section 2, the executive branch is granted a specific power: "He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur..." Treaties, yes, but those "treaties" were supposed to be about things like military alliances and such. When it comes to commerce... er, nope. That's Congress' mandate alone. Back to the Constitution and Article I, Section 8, where it clearly states that Congress is granted the power "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations."

    So Basically what has happened is the USTR & Ron Kirk have been negotiating a Commerce Treaty with Foreign Nations and have done this with the President's knowledge and approval WITHOUT GOING BEFORE OUR CONGRESS.
    USTR & Ron Kirk are clearly doing something that anyone with any intelligence at all can see.All you have to do is go Online, to your Library, or to your books to look at a Copy of Our Great Constitution.The writing is right there !!!
    USTR & Ron Kirk you have broken our most sacred Laws.You should be investigated and tried before a Court of your Peers.
    You are criminals !

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 28th, 2012 @ 9:10am

    There's more

    I don't see Issa's or Wyden's name on the letter. There's probably a whole lot more in congress than 130 that are concerned about TPP transparency.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Chosen Reject (profile), Jun 28th, 2012 @ 9:54am

    Re: Senators Should Pledge Now to Vote Against TPP

    Maybe I'm being cynical but I don't think this letter is really addressed to Ron Kirk. I think a bunch of reps saw how the MPAA treats the politicians they buy off and they want in on it. They'll grandstand here until the MPAA buys them too. And maybe this is a good thing. Piracy and dwindling revenues won't kill them off, bribing politicians will. It's gotta be expensive paying off that many people.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    TtfnJohn (profile), Jun 28th, 2012 @ 10:15am

    Re: Some of us already do that

    With the "tax" on blank media in Canada we basically do turn over a portion of our paycheque each time we buy a blank CD or DVD or any reason. It doesn't matter what we're going to do with the media all that matters is that the "content industry" gets paid as, apparently, so to (some) artists.

    It's coming, don't worry, it's coming!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    The Mighty Buzzard (profile), Jun 28th, 2012 @ 10:30am

    Re: Re: Senators Should Pledge Now to Vote Against TPP

    Problem is, nothing is regulated unless Congress signs off on it. Until they do, it's just "an idea the Executive had", same as "the President's Budget".

    Somehow though Congress has managed to convince itself that it should actually give a happy damn when the Executive sends it proposals for bills. I certainly wouldn't but then I'd never get elected either since I'm not a liar or willing to sell my principles to the highest bidder.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    ltlw0lf (profile), Jun 28th, 2012 @ 1:09pm

    Re: Re: Some of us already do that

    It's coming, don't worry, it's coming!

    And now the cable companies can complain about their customers cutting the cords, and the government will tell everyone they have to buy cable too.

    With the "tax" on blank media in Canada we basically do turn over a portion of our paycheque each time we buy a blank CD or DVD or any reason. It doesn't matter what we're going to do with the media all that matters is that the "content industry" gets paid as, apparently, so to (some) artists.

    At least we have the stupid "music cds" here, where we can decide if we want to pay the tax or not. I suspect you are right...the industry seems to take every "good" law for itself it introduces in one place and spread it out everywhere. I suspect you're right though...it is coming.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    TaCktiX (profile), Jun 28th, 2012 @ 2:44pm

    Re: There's more

    Issa and Wyden are Senators. This is a letter from the House of Representatives.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 28th, 2012 @ 3:00pm

    Re: Re: There's more

    Issa and Wyden are Senators.


    Really?

    How come Darrell Issa's website is at http://issa.house.gov/? He represents California's 49th district. I didn't know senators had congressional districts.

    Wyden, though, he represents the entire state of Oregon. So what is up that?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Jun 28th, 2012 @ 3:30pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    I am so glad that man was held in contempt of congress.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    dwg, Jun 28th, 2012 @ 8:43pm

    Re:

    See also "My agent came to my house?!"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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