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.