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.