President Obama in his last State of the Union address said that he hopes to see the United States ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, an proposed treaty among at least 12 nations on both sides of the Pacific that would set rules of what members governments could and couldn’t do in regard to financial regulation, intellectual property rights and much else.
But the Obama administration refuses to disclose precisely what is in the draft treaty or what the United States is asking for. That’s classified information.
That is to say, the classification system, whose original stated purpose was to make it a crime to disclose military secrets to foreign enemies, is being used to make it a crime to reveal the government’s proposed trade treaty to the American public.
Government bodies have held closed and secret meetings from time immemorial, and journalists and legislators have found out about them as best they could. But making it a crime to reveal what goes on in those meetings has historically been regarded as unconstitutional.
At some point, of course, the text of the treaty will have to be disclosed. The Obama administration’s intent seems to be to keep everything secret until the last moment, and thus rush the treaty through Congress on a “fast track” vote with a minimum of discussion.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, the outspoken Massachusetts Democrat, courageously voted against Michael Froman to be U.S. trade representatives because of his refusal to answer simple questions about the TPP. Here’s what she said about it.
I have heard the argument that transparency would undermine the Trade Representative’s policy to complete the trade agreement because public opposition would be significant. In other words, if people knew what was going on, they would stop it. This argument is exactly backwards. If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.
I believe in transparency and democracy, and I think the U.S. Trade Representative should too.
I asked the President’s nominee to be Trade Representative — Michael Froman – three questions: First, would he commit to releasing the composite bracketed text? Or second, if not, would he commit to releasing just a scrubbed version of the bracketed text that made anonymous which country proposed which provision. (Note: Even the Bush Administration put out the scrubbed version during negotiations around the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement.)
Third, I asked Mr. Froman if he would provide more transparency behind what information is made to the trade office’s outside advisers. Currently, there are about 600 outside advisers that have access to sensitive information, and the roster includes a wide diversity of industry representatives and some labor and NGO representatives too. But there is no transparency around who gets what information and whether they all see the same things, and I think that’s a real problem.
Mr. Froman’s response was clear: No, no, no.
via naked capitalism.
The outside advisers, by the way, reportedly include 500 representatives of industry and finance, and 100 from all other groups; they, too, are sworn to secrecy. Senators and Representatives have been forbidden to share what little they know even with their own staffs. Recently Rep. Alan Grayson, an outspoken Florida Democrat, was allowed to see a version of the draft treaty.
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) told HuffPost on Monday that he viewed an edited version of the negotiation texts last week, but that secrecy policies at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative created scheduling difficulties that delayed his access for nearly six weeks.
The Obama administration has barred any Congressional staffers from reviewing the full negotiation text and prohibited members of Congress from discussing the specific terms of the text with trade experts and reporters. Staffers on some committees are granted access to portions of the text under their committee’s jurisdiction.
“This, more than anything, shows the abuse of the classified information system,” Grayson told HuffPost. “They maintain that the text is classified information. And I get clearance because I’m a member of Congress, but now they tell me that they don’t want me to talk to anybody about it because if I did, I’d be releasing classified information.”
“What I saw was nothing that could possibly justify the secrecy that surrounds it,” Grayson said, referring to the draft Trans-Pacific deal. “It is ironic in a way that the government thinks it’s alright to have a record of every single call that an American makes, but not alright for an American citizen to know what sovereign powers the government is negotiating away.”
via Huffington Post.
Here’s what Grayston told his constituents.
The TPP is nicknamed “NAFTA on steroids.” Now that I’ve read it, I can see why. I can’t tell you what’s in the agreement, because the U.S. Trade Representative calls it classified. But I can tell you two things about it.
1) There is no national security purpose in keeping this text secret.
2) This agreement hands the sovereignty of our country over to corporate interests.
3) What they can’t afford to tell the American public is that [the rest of this sentence is classified].
(Well, I did promise to tell you only two things about it.)
I will be fighting this agreement with everything I’ve got. And I know you’ll be there every step of the way.
What is the problem with the proposed treaty? All the public knows about it comes from leaks, but Lori Wallach and Ben Beachy, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, say the little those leaks tell us is highly disturbing.
… The agreement is more than just a trade deal. Only 5 of its 29 chapters cover traditional trade matters, like tariffs or quotas. The others impose parameters on non-trade policies. Existing and future American laws must be altered to conform with these terms, or trade sanctions can be imposed against American exports.
Remember the debate in January 2012 over the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would have imposed harsh penalties for even the most minor and inadvertent infraction of a company’s copyright? The ensuing uproar derailed the proposal. But now, the very corporations behind SOPA are at it again, hoping to reincarnate its terms within the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s sweeping proposed copyright provisions.
From another leak, we know the pact would also take aim at policies to control the cost of medicine. Pharmaceutical companies, which are among those enjoying access to negotiators as “advisers,” have long lobbied against government efforts to keep the cost of medicines down. Under the agreement, these companies could challenge such measures by claiming that they undermined their new rights granted by the deal.
And yet another leak revealed that the deal would include even more expansive incentives to relocate domestic manufacturing offshore than were included in NAFTA — a deal that drained millions of manufacturing jobs from the American economy.
The agreement would also be a boon for Wall Street and its campaign to water down regulations put in place after the 2008 financial crisis. Among other things, it would practically forbid bans on risky financial products, including the toxic derivatives that helped cause the crisis in the first place.
Click on the following links for background and sources.
Obama’s Covert Trade Deal by Lori Wallach and Ben Beachy in the New York Times.
Elizabeth Warren Free Trade Letter Calls for Trans-Pacific Partnership Transparency by Zach Carter of Huffington Post.
Alan Grayson on Trans-Pacific Partnership: Obama Secrecy Is Assault on Democratic Government by Zach Carter of Huffington Post.
More Obama Secrecy: Rep. Grayson Can’t Disclose Classified Trans-Pacific Partnership Draft by Yves Smith for naked capitalism.
Sherrod Brown Wimps Out on Secret Negotiations in Secret USTR Vote: Elizabeth Warren Takes Risk in Bucking Obama by Yves Smith for naked capitalism.
Graphic via Stop TPP