Democrat Senator Finds TPP Secrecy ‘Insulting’

While Canadian municipalities are growing increasingly agitated over being kept in the dark about CETA, a similar story is being played out in the US over the secrecy of the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). A spokesperson speaking on behalf of Democrat Senator Ron Wyden called the secrecy of the TPP “insulting”.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

Time and time again, we are seeing the same sort of arguments against these secret trade agreements. While there is the underlying concern that stakeholders outside your governmental jurisdiction are creating new legal rules for legally elected politicians, the more broad concern is the knowledge that these activities are done in secret.

Fire Dog Lake is pointing to an article from the Huffington Post which contains comments from spokesperson Jennifer Hoelzer speaking for Ron Wyden:

“I would point out how insulting it is for them to argue that members of Congress are to personally go over to USTR to view the trade documents,” Hoelzer said. “An advisor at Halliburton or the MPAA is given a password that allows him or her to go on the USTR website and view the TPP agreement anytime he or she wants.”

The general public and most nonprofit organizations have no access to the documents, although a number of corporate officials can see them.

USTR told HuffPost that members of Congress can “be accommodated at an appropriate location on Capitol Hill” and said, “We are continuing to work directly with Senator Wyden and his staff to be responsive to the concerns he raises about TPP transparency, and are glad to be doing so; this is an important conversation.”

USTR’s refusal to share documents with congressional staffers has also raised the hackles of Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who agreed to co-sponsor Wyden’s bill after his own staffer was turned away.

“When our staff requested to review the TPP on behalf of the senator, even staff with what we consider to be appropriate clearance were denied access,” Burr spokesman David Ward told HuffPost.

This sort of commentary on the agreement is one of the most perfect breeding grounds for conspiracy theorists. You can hardly blame anyone for asking questions like, “If internal government staff can’t even see this agreement and it requires special clearance for elected officials have a hard time seeing the agreement, who are making the rules of the land anyway?” or “Why do major corporate interests have greater access to lawmaking than lawmakers?” after reading things like that.

Fire Dog Lake also adds word that a letter is being circulated to open up transparency:

And like Issa, Brown has concerns about the IP issues. “In the past this was mainly confined to pharmaceutical patents,” Brown said, and while that’s a continuing problem in the TPP (the result of which could drive up drug prices in poor countries across Asia), “in the age of the Internet, there are a host of other IP implications that need to be addressed.” The same coalition that opposed SOPA and PIPA has worried about the IP implications for TPP. Brown wants the USTR to allow pro-Internet freedom stakeholders access to the documents, not just industry, by putting them on the Industry Trade Advisory Committee (ITAC) for Intellectual Property Rights, the key IP advisory body for the deal.

There are additional potential impacts of TPP in areas like natural resources, land use, food, government procurement, energy, telecommunications and financial regulations. With the number of countries involved, this would be as big a trade deal as has been undertaken in decades.

Brown couldn’t really get specific about his complaints with TPP, because like most people he doesn’t know all of what’s in the document. So he’s going this route, working with others in Congress, to try and get some input into the deal. The letter basically warns that Congress and the public need to weigh in on the deal before they get frozen out of the process. Otherwise, it will be presented to Congress fully negotiated, in a “take it or leave it” fashion. This has been the history of recent NAFTA-style trade deals.

“(USTR) say they don’t want to negotiate in public,” Brown told me. But the asymmetry here was troubling to him. “It’s easier for a CEO to view the end product than a member of Congress, that’s the problem.”

I think that it’s a very sad commentary of our society when lawmakers find themselves having to beg for transparency of agreements that would fundamentally alter criminal law and how the economy works. I thought we elect politicians to create the laws of the land. Have we really degenerated to the point where federal policy makers are simply middlemen to lawmaking in a country? If agreements like ACTA and TPP set any sort of precedent, then lawmakers are increasingly becoming nothing more than a series of rubber stamps for foreign corporate entities. Forget about being rubber stamps for domestic lobbyists. Forget about the idea of lawmakers being yes-men for who ever happens to be the president. We are marching down a road that leads to world leaders being directed to form laws a certain way from a pseudo-higher order that seemingly consist of a bunch of businessmen in smoke-filled rooms simply deciding how the world should work next. This is not a work of science fiction, we are seeing it through these secret agreements that are sprouting up like dandelions on a patch of grass off the side of a highway. This is why I’m personally against these agreements just based on the process in which these agreements are formed in the first place. I have a serious problem with criminal laws being created under the cloak of secrecy and barred from any form of public debate altogether.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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