Say That Again

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
acta, fta, petition, tpp, transparency, ustr

Petition With 90,000 Signatures Of People Worried About TPP Hand Delivered To USTR Negotiators

from the will-it-matter dept

USTR negotiators have basically acted as if they represent the interests of big businesses in their negotiations on various trade proposals. That's why we get things like ACTA, TPP and various "free trade agreements" (FTAs) that all seem to focus on carving out protections for specific special interests who just happen to sit on the USTR's "advisory committees." What they often forget is that they're supposed to be representing the public. But, at times, they're so disconnected from the public that what's best for the actual country rarely seems to enter into the thought process. Of course, with the uprising against ACTA, perhaps some people at the USTR are beginning to wake up to the fact that their roles aren't just about making special interests happy. The recent admission that limitations and exceptions are important in copyright is a sign that this kind of thinking may be filtering through.

Last week, a group of public interests organizations also hand delivered an online petition that was signed by over 90,000 people raising concerns about TPP. I generally don't think much of online petitions like this, but in this situation, where's it's incredibly important for the USTR to recognize that the public and internet users are watching -- and are concerned -- something like this seems like it could be helpful in at least making the USTR negotiators recognize that the public matters.

Of course, for them to prove that they really understand that, they'd need to start being a hell of a lot more transparent, such as by releasing the US recommendations that are being negotiated. Until that happens, it's difficult to trust the USTR to really be looking out for the public's best interests.

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  1. icon
    Ophelia Millais (profile), 9 Jul 2012 @ 4:21pm


    Given that the stakeholders represent industry, that's probably exactly their position; there's at least that many people in the music and movie business. When these industries feel threatened, they routinely trot out figures showing their industry consists of hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihood depends on some form of cart blanche or other.

    "What they often forget is that they're supposed to be representing the public."óMasnick

    I think that's a false assumption. The USTR is an appointed, Cabinet-level position, and the USTR office's mission is to promote trade, i.e. boost international business for American companies. The USTR simply isn't tasked with "representing the public" other than by taking steps to ensure that U.S. trade goals can be realized. That is, the American public has an interest in American companies doing well (as related to business conducted with other nations), but any other concerns the public might have aren't relevant. Not saying I agree with it.

    International trade agreements often involve making concessions that are certain to incense a sizable number of people across party lines, be it the public or companies and industries which benefit from the status quo. That's why these agreements get on the "Fast Track" and are negotiated, approved and implemented with as little public involvement and awareness as possible. Again, not saying I agree with it.

    Petitioning the USTR and its negotiators not to undermine the public interest can't hurt, and as a step toward raising public awareness it's rather a good thing. But arguing that the USTR is "supposed to be representing the public" is surely unpersuasive to those who actually work there, since the office's structure and mission, and the fact that it's in the Executive branch, have long meant it is by design wholly oblivious and unaccountable to the public.

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