USTR Still Insists That 'Listening' Is 'Transparency' Even As It Keeps Details Completely Secret

from the buy-a-fucking-dictionary dept

The United States Trade Representative (USTR) office is a complete joke. For many years, we've been discussing how the office is one of the most secretive there is, despite negotiating agreements that impact every American. And for years, the USTR has responded with a series of flat out lies, while insisting that it's being transparent. As we've noted, the USTR is really about as transparent as pea soup, with an institutional focus on secrecy. The negotiating positions that it takes on various trade agreements are shrouded in secrecy. When other countries push to be more transparent, the USTR inevitably rejects those pleas. While lobbyists get full access to some of the documents (including the ability to log in and see the latest texts), members of Congress who want to see the details have to go to the USTR, aren't allowed to bring any staffers, and aren't allowed to make any copies or take any notes. And, it tries to actually make it difficult for most members of Congress to read the docs anyway.

The big lie from the USTR has long been that because it "listens" to anyone who wants to come in and talk, it's being transparent. Or it claims that because it (sorta) listens to Congress and Congress is "the people's representative" that it's being transparent. But, as we've explained over and over and over again, the USTR is confusing "listening" with "transparency." In the past, we've been fairly explicit about how the USTR is wrong about this:
  • Listening: People ---- information -----> USTR
  • Transparency: USTR --- information ----> The Public
But the USTR keeps trotting this one out. It's released a new, almost entirely bogus "fact sheet" on Transparency and the Obama Trade Agenda. Take a look at the "facts" and see which ones are actually about "transparency" and which ones are about pretending to listen:

The Administration is working to cast a wide net to draw in the views of the public and to share information at every step of the negotiating process. To that end, for the negotiations currently ongoing, the Administration has:

  • Solicited public comments on negotiation aims, priorities and concerns, including through the Federal Register.
  • Held public hearings inviting input on the negotiations.
  • Organized first-of-a-kind stakeholder events where the negotiations are suspended so that a diverse group of stakeholders can meet with negotiators. These sessions are open to the public and provide a valuable opportunity for U.S. negotiators to hear and respond to critiques and suggestions.
  • Shared information on the current status of negotiations through blog posts, trade policy updates, press releases, statements, conference calls with stakeholders and the press, and tweets.
That last one actually involves sharing some information, but always in a half-hearted and misleading way. It talks about the status of the negotiations, sure, but not about the actual text. And it's the actual text that matters. But in USTR-lala-land, we don't get to see the actual text until it's too late to change it. That's the whole point of the USTR seeking "fast track authority" from Congress, meaning that effectively what it hands in can't be changed at all. That allows the lobbyists to tinker with the details and change the language in dangerous ways, without giving anyone who understands the impact of these things to comment on it until it's too late.

The USTR insists that it can't "negotiate in public," but that's bullshit. Other international agreements frequently involve proposals and negotiating texts released to the public for comment. There is no good reason that the USTR can't do the same. The only real reason that's been given by the USTR is that actual transparency would lead to public opposition. And that's not a valid reason.

The USTR can fix this by changing to true transparency, but this argument has been going on for years, and instead of doing the right thing, it just issues more bogus "fact sheets" where it obfuscates reality by pretending to be transparent, while actually being anything but transparent.

Filed Under: fast track, listening, tafta, tpp, trade promotion authority, transparency, ustr


Reader Comments

The First Word

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    sorrykb (profile), 14 Jan 2015 @ 3:19pm

    Like a one-way mirror

    USTR: "If we can see you, it's transparent!"

    Meanwhile we're left staring at our own reflection...

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 3:51pm

    A small minority is undermining the democratic process through secretive meetings and yet they're the ones trying to take the moral high ground? The fact that they are willing to undermine the democratic process to get what they want should suggest that they aren't very morally just people and it should make us suspect of any moral arguments they try to make when it comes to claiming that it is everyone else that's wrong and they need special laws to prevent the masses from doing the wrong thing.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 5:32pm

    Held public hearings inviting input on the negotiations.


    Which meant that the public concerns were scheduled during the lunch recess of the meeting. They had something like 15 minutes with most of the committee members not present. No information on what was being discussed was ever put out to the public unless it was leaked.

    Shared information on the current status of negotiations through blog posts, trade policy updates, press releases, statements, conference calls with stakeholders and the press, and tweets.


    Problem with this one is that the negotiations are not open. In fact to participate some of the countries have to ignore their own laws to do so. Laws that say any trade negotiations will be presented to the public in full. Yet to be part of this negotiations means they have to violate their own laws to participate by agreeing to secrecy before being allowed access.

    Organized first-of-a-kind stakeholder events where the negotiations are suspended so that a diverse group of stakeholders can meet with negotiators. These sessions are open to the public and provide a valuable opportunity for U.S. negotiators to hear and respond to critiques and suggestions.


    There's a bit of a problem with the definition of stakeholder. In the trade negotiations that means the corporations that benefit to the USTR. Problem with that is it is a national agreement where everyone is bound by the same deal. The public is not being invited to the table for a reason. To quote Elizabeth Warren:

    Now, stop and ask yourself, why are trade deals secret? I’ve actually heard supporters say they have to have secrecy, because if people knew what was going on, they would be opposed.

    I think that says it all.

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 14 Jan 2015 @ 6:02pm

    Begs the question...

    What can we do besides complain to our Congress critters?

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 14 Jan 2015 @ 6:47pm

      Give them light

      Well, the congresscritters are for the most part completely useless. Making it clear that Fast Track needs to be rejected completely and utterly is about all they're good for at this point, since they clearly lack the spine to do anything more, and spinning FTA as taking away their power(not 'responsibility' mind, they'd love to ditch as much of that as possible) might be good at getting their attention.

      Instead, the best way to fight this is to make it as public as possible. They want secrecy in order to screw over the public, the best way to fight that is to shine light whenever possible on their actions. Every scrap that makes it free needs to be published far and wide, every statement they make needs to be ripped apart, their lies and contradictory claims made known. If someone was able to get their hands on the Holy Grail, the full texts, spreading it in it's entirety, as widely as possible(to make it harder for them to get it removed), would make for an excellent blow against them.

      They want darkness? Give them light. Drown them in it in fact, as much as possible.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 14 Jan 2015 @ 6:38pm

    Going past useless to insulting

    Held public hearings inviting input on the negotiations.

    So they're 'inviting input' on the negotiations. You know what would help that out? If the public actually knew what was going on in the negotiations so they could offer meaningful input.

    As it is, the public only knows what few scraps the USTR releases, or that manage to leak out, so even if someone wants to contribute, all they can do is make meaningless, vague statements in regards to what they want to see, and not see, in the agreements, with no way of knowing what's already in them, and no way of knowing if their 'input' is having any affect at all.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 6:52pm

    corruptocracy

    Let's look on the positive side: the USTR can't possibly be as secretive, corrupt, and detrimental to the health and wealth of the nation as the Federal Reserve, the private corporation which essentially owns the country.

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

  • identicon
    Any Mouse, 14 Jan 2015 @ 8:01pm

    If listening were transparency then the NSA would be the most transparent Agency on Earth.

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

  • identicon
    Lurker Keith, 14 Jan 2015 @ 11:16pm

    Department change

    I have to challenge the Department you filed this under. They're already using the NSA's "dictionary". You want them to buy a real dictionary, one that doesn't have some kind of modifier before it.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2015 @ 1:05am

    "Organized first-of-a-kind stakeholder events where the negotiations are suspended so that a diverse group of stakeholders can meet with negotiators. These sessions are open to the public..."


    Therefore the public are not stakeholders. Who are these reps representing on the public dime?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2015 @ 5:55am

    "It is not a crime when we do it"

    That should be the catchphrase for every organization of the criminals government of America.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2015 @ 6:02am

    One-way mirror style of transparency is a matter of perspective.

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

  • icon
    gamesmith94134 (profile), 15 Jan 2015 @ 11:21am

    It is not just transparancy; and it is the fairness to stand in the ground of Business. apparently, the so called USTR attempt to create the cartel of its own that its alliance of politicians can corrupt each other and sanction ones does not apply. It is why TTP or TIPP or CETA are the kept secret to themself in order to manipulate monoply and the public saw the gap of have and have not is imminent that is why European union was not set on its ground. Take the PIIGS and Russia, it is where the civil businessman drew the line.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2015 @ 8:55pm

    Help wikileaks expose more trade agreements by donation http://org.salsalabs.com/o/1439/content_item/freetpp that's how we get more information from the tpp.

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


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Copying Is Not Theft
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.