The Obama administration is coming under increased pressure from Congress to provide lawmakers, nonprofits, and other stakeholders with more details about a trade agreement being negotiated by the United States and a group of Asia-Pacific countries.
The latest complaints over the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks come from about 130 Democratic House members. In a letter on Wednesday, they urged U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to undertake “broader and deeper consultations” with lawmakers on committees with jurisdiction over the areas covered by TPP and allow for great input on key issues.
“The proposed TPP [free trade agreement] necessitates extreme care at the front end, which includes input from members of Congress serving on committees whose jurisdiction is directly implicated by the broad array of trade and non-trade policies being negotiated,” wrote the lawmakers, led by Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and George Miller, D-Calif. “We are troubled that important policy decisions are being made without full input from Congress.”
The lawmakers noted that U.S. officials have provided drafts of other trade agreements while they were still being negotiated, including the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
The transparency of the TPP talks has prompted bipartisan concern. House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., also has voiced concerns with the negotiating process and about the intellectual property provisions in the pact. He wrote Kirk on Tuesday formally requesting that he and some staff be able to attend the next round of talks, which start next week in San Diego.
“Given the immense impact that this agreement will have on many areas of the American economy, including intellectual property, I respectfully request that you allow me and certain members of my staff to be present as observers for this round of negotiations,” Issa wrote. “It is my hope that observing the negotiating process firsthand will help to alleviate some of my concerns about the process through which the agreement is being negotiated.”
The concern from lawmakers has been echoed by some public interest groups, which launched an international coalition on Wednesday to fight Internet restrictions, aimed at fighting copyright infringement, that could be included in TPP. Many of the groups involved in the coalition also helped successfully derail two controversial U.S. antipiracy bills earlier this year.
The coalition, launched by the Canadian group OpenMedia, includes U.S. organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Citizen, and Public Knowledge.
USTR officials have defended the TPP process, saying they have sought input from a variety of stakeholders before each round of talks. They also note that some secrecy is necessary to ensure a frank exchange of views among the negotiating countries.
“In order to reach agreements that each participating government can fully embrace, negotiators need to communicate with each other with a high degree of candor, creativity, and mutual trust,” USTR said in a fact sheet on the TPP talks. “To create the conditions necessary to successfully reach agreement in complex trade and investment negotiations, governments routinely keep their proposals and communications with each other confidential.”
USTR made similar points during the negotiations over ACTA when concerns about the transparency of the process also were raised about that agreement.
But greater transparency may not be enough to address concerns with TPP. Even though drafts of ACTA were released before the agreement was finished, it didn’t quell concerns over the international deal, which the United States helped lead. Internet activists and other opponents worry that ACTA’s intellectual property safeguards are too broad and could hamper Internet innovation.
A European parliament trade committee voted to reject ACTA last week, a move that could doom the pact when it comes up for a vote before the full parliament next month.