The NY Times has, somewhat bizarrely, almost totally ignored the mess that is the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, and all of the secrecy behind it. There was a bizarre editorial in December that seemed to present support
for the agreement, while admitting that they hadn't actually seen the agreement. There was a terrible piece by Paul Krugman in which he incorrectly assumed
that the TPP was just like any other trade deal. Last week there was an OpEd by David Bonior that highlighted the failures of NAFTA and pointed out that the TPP would likely make income inequality worse
in the US, despite the President's claimed desire to reduce that problem.
However, there's now finally a piece that takes a look at the key issue most of us have had about the agreement from the beginning: the insane lack of transparency -- and the fact that it's been set up entirely to be about benefiting legacy industries, rather than actually benefiting the public. The piece, by Thomas Edsall, highlights what a disaster the USTR and President Obama have done
in negotiating the agreement in such a secretive manner. He notes that while it's expected that certain groups (such as unions) will almost always fight free trade agreements, the TPP's secrecy has resulted in supporters of free trade coming out against it as well.
Indeed, if this agreement were actually
about free trade -- i.e., decreasing tarriffs and lowering barriers to trade across nations -- many folks (likely including myself) would be a lot more interested in supporting it. And while there are some elements of that in the agreement, that's not the problematic stuff. Having an entire chapter on IP
? That's not about lowering barriers to trade, but increasing them. The "corporate sovereignty"
section that allows companies to sue governments for not having regulations they like? That's just an out and out corporate handout designed to harm the public.
But the real issue here is the incredible level of secrecy that the USTR has engaged in throughout this process -- and the constant lies
it tells anytime anyone calls them on it. In the past, we've pointed to Senator Elizabeth Warren's point that if, as former USTR Ron Kirk claimed, they can't make the text public because the public wouldn't allow the agreement to move forward, well, then that seems like a reason not to move forward
Edsall has that quote from Warren, and then gets the USTR to respond -- though the "spokesperson" for the USTR was apparently too chickenshit to actually sign their name to the statements. There's a reason for that. Whoever said the following knows that it's pure crap:
“Members of Congress, as the people’s representatives, and staff for our Congressional committees of jurisdiction see and advise the Executive Branch not only on U.S. proposals, but also negotiating text for the TPP. Negotiators are available to walk Members and committee staff through that text and have done so on request. Moreover, USTR regularly briefs additional Congressional staff on the negotiations and U.S. approaches, taking input there as well. All told, we’ve held more than 1,100 briefings on Capitol Hill on TPP alone.”
This is just smoke and mirrors. The idea that Congress is actually "the people's representatives" is a joke that no one believes. Sure, they're supposed to be that, but find me anyone who actually believes that's accurate? Are there a few members of Congress who do really represent the public? Absolutely, but it's few and far between. In an era where politicians spend between 40% and 50% of their time "dialing for dollars" from wealthy donors and companies, the idea that Congress is actually looking out for the best interests of the public is clearly hogwash.
Of course, even if we accept that crazy statement as true, the rest of the quote is still
crap. The USTR loves to tout all those "briefings" it holds with Congress, but most of those are one-directional, in which the USTR hears what someone is saying, but provides no real transparency on what they're doing. The claim that they allow members and staff to see the agreement? Well, note the careful choice of words. They say "staff for our Congressional committees of jurisdiction." And yet, as we pointed out not too long ago, when Senator Ron Wyden tried to get his senior staffer who's an expert on international trade access to the document, he was denied
. And Wyden chairs the Senate's subcommittee on international trade (and is likely to take over the Senate Finance Committee, which is in charge of the whole "fast track" thing). You'd think his staffer wouldn't have any trouble getting access. But he did.
Given all this, Edsall quotes the still nameless USTR official who argued -- apparently with a straight face -- that there was transparency because of the USTR's "advisory committees."
Froman’s spokesperson, who declined to be identified by name, argued that outside groups are able to present their views on trade negotiations through a system of so-called “advisory committees.”
I like that sleight of hand. "Outside groups." Except, as we've detailed multiple times
, these "advisory committees" -- such as ITAC-15, which handles intellectual property, is almost entirely made up of giant legacy players looking to protect their position, with no room for input on the impact on the public, or even innovative upstarts who provide a better product for the public. Instead, it's all about the giant old guard who play the political game to protect their position against upstarts.
Edsall notes that this is a bogus response from the USTR which apparently chose not to respond at all any further.
The good news in all of this, though, is that it highlights that this is a much bigger issue than just the usual opponents of free trade. It's become such a problem that a lot of traditional supporters of free trade have recognize that the secrecy and lack of transparency over the TPP has resulted in a horrible document that is damaging for the American public and
the basic concepts of democracy.