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Techdirt's "Don't-Buy-It" Exposes USTR's Lies on Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority

Monday, 20 January 2014 15:00 By Staff, Techdirt | Report
With the introduction of fast track authority (also known as "trade promotion authority") in Congress, by which Congress abdicates its constitutionally-granted sole power to regulate foreign commerce, the USTR (which gains that power) is out in force, spreading all sorts of lies about what this means. It's not exactly encouraging when the organization that has been hiding all the details of the TPP agreement for years is now trying to push it forward by directly lying to the American public. It's almost as if the USTR can't be honest or people might realize that it's spent the last few years pushing forward on an agreement designed to prop up old legacy businesses at the expense of the public and new innovators.

The USTR's statement on the fast track proposal is full of lies, half-truths and misleading statements. Let's look at a few.
 
TPA does not provide new power to the Executive Branch.
 
Hell yes, it does. Trade Promotion Authority gives the power of regulating foreign commerce directly to the USTR, rather than Congress. It allows the USTR to negotiate a "final" agreement with other countries, which Congress cannot seek to change, amend or fix. Instead, Congress can only give a simple "yes or no" vote on what the USTR comes back with. Without TPA, the USTR actually needs to engage Congress, and win its support and approval on everything within the agreement. That gives Congress -- which is supposed to represent the public -- a chance to make sure that (as the USTR has shown a proclivity to do) the agreement is not filled with ridiculous "gifts" for cronies and friends at the expense of the public and disruptive innovation.
 
TPA is a legislative procedure, written by Congress, through which Congress defines U.S. negotiating objectives and spells out a detailed oversight and consultation process for during trade negotiations.
 
If TPA didn't tie Congress' own hands, the USTR might have a point here. But it's not true. While the TPA bill does officially "define" the negotiating objectives, those objectives listed in the current bill are basically the USTR's own list of what it's working on, reprinted by friends in Congress. And, honestly, how is it possible that it "spells out detailed oversight," when what the bill really does is make sure that the USTR can give Congress whatever it comes up with and say "take it or leave it"? Without TPA, the USTR actually has to go convince Congress that what it's been proposing (secretly and with no public review) is actually in the public interest.
 
Under TPA, Congress retains the authority to review and decide whether any proposed U.S. trade agreement will be implemented.
 
Misleading at best. Insulting to anyone with at least half a brain. Congress has significantly less authority under TPA to review and decide any trade agreement. That's because without TPA, Congress can review and question different aspects, or introduce amendments and fixes to all the stuff that the USTR screwed up. With TPA, Congress can only give an up or down vote on the entire package. That means, as long as the USTR includes enough "pork" to outweigh the crap for the majority of Congress, it can get through a ton of dangerous proposals -- like those we've already seen in the still officially "secret" intellectual property chapter.
 
TPA ENSURES TRANSPARENCY AND PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT IN TRADE

TPA bills establish consultation and notification requirements for the President to follow throughout the trade agreement negotiation process – ensuring that Congress, stakeholders and the public are closely involved before, during and after the conclusion of trade agreement negotiations.
 
It's tough to read this and not laugh. This is an out and out lie. And it's a direct insult on the public. Remember, the TPP negotiations have been going on for years, and we still don't officially know what's in the TPP, other than what's been leaked. The idea that the public is "closely involved" is an insult. The public is not involved at all, entirely by the choice of the USTR, which has chosen to keep them out. As for Congress? They're also mostly in the dark. Yes, elected officials can go see the negotiating text, but they have to go to the USTR's offices, and they're not allowed to bring any staffers, make any copies or take any notes.

The USTR keeps pretending that because it will "meet with anyone who asks" that it's being transparent. But transparency is not about listening to whoever knocks on your door. It's about the other direction: it's about providing information out to the public -- something that the USTR has absolutely refused to do. The TPA does absolutely nothing to increase transparency, and actually gives the USTR fewer incentives to be transparent because now it knows there's no real oversight any more.

The USTR is flat out lying here, and it's a disgrace.
 
In addition to our congressionally mandated committees of industry and public sector advisers, the United States consults with all interested stakeholders at each trade agreement negotiating round and in between. We do this to share information and get views that make the negotiated product better. For TPP, these stakeholders have included representatives from academia, labor unions, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations. Under TPA, this activity would continue and be strengthened.
 
Misleading again. Yes, the USTR "shares" information, but only with a very small list of advisors -- who almost exclusively come from old legacy businesses. Everyone else? The USTR's response is to give them the middle finger. The claim about consulting with "interested stakeholders" at each round is also misleading. As we've covered in the past, at many (though not all) of the negotiating rounds, there would be an hour or two where "stakeholders" would have the opportunity to sit at a table and hope negotiators came to talk to them. Sometimes this would be done far away and at times when negotiators had better things to do -- like eat lunch. Sometimes stakeholders were allowed to give presentations, but with no guarantee that any negotiators would attend.

As for using those meetings to "share information" -- that's again highly misleading. Again, the USTR has been negotiating the TPP for years and still has not released any information at all on what's in it. What we know is what's been leaked out, and that little that's been leaked shows exactly why the USTR fears transparency and fears the public: because they're crafting an agreement designed to protect a few corporate interests at the expense of just about everyone else.

An honest and forthright USTR wouldn't fear the public, and it wouldn't insult and lie to the public as is happening here. The USTR is trying to pull a fast one over on the American public. It's negotiating an agreement in secret, pretending that it's being transparent, and then encouraging Congress to give up its right to review the agreement (without even seeing it), with insulting promises that by doing so, that will create more transparency.
This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

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Techdirt's "Don't-Buy-It" Exposes USTR's Lies on Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority

Monday, 20 January 2014 15:00 By Staff, Techdirt | Report
With the introduction of fast track authority (also known as "trade promotion authority") in Congress, by which Congress abdicates its constitutionally-granted sole power to regulate foreign commerce, the USTR (which gains that power) is out in force, spreading all sorts of lies about what this means. It's not exactly encouraging when the organization that has been hiding all the details of the TPP agreement for years is now trying to push it forward by directly lying to the American public. It's almost as if the USTR can't be honest or people might realize that it's spent the last few years pushing forward on an agreement designed to prop up old legacy businesses at the expense of the public and new innovators.

The USTR's statement on the fast track proposal is full of lies, half-truths and misleading statements. Let's look at a few.
 
TPA does not provide new power to the Executive Branch.
 
Hell yes, it does. Trade Promotion Authority gives the power of regulating foreign commerce directly to the USTR, rather than Congress. It allows the USTR to negotiate a "final" agreement with other countries, which Congress cannot seek to change, amend or fix. Instead, Congress can only give a simple "yes or no" vote on what the USTR comes back with. Without TPA, the USTR actually needs to engage Congress, and win its support and approval on everything within the agreement. That gives Congress -- which is supposed to represent the public -- a chance to make sure that (as the USTR has shown a proclivity to do) the agreement is not filled with ridiculous "gifts" for cronies and friends at the expense of the public and disruptive innovation.
 
TPA is a legislative procedure, written by Congress, through which Congress defines U.S. negotiating objectives and spells out a detailed oversight and consultation process for during trade negotiations.
 
If TPA didn't tie Congress' own hands, the USTR might have a point here. But it's not true. While the TPA bill does officially "define" the negotiating objectives, those objectives listed in the current bill are basically the USTR's own list of what it's working on, reprinted by friends in Congress. And, honestly, how is it possible that it "spells out detailed oversight," when what the bill really does is make sure that the USTR can give Congress whatever it comes up with and say "take it or leave it"? Without TPA, the USTR actually has to go convince Congress that what it's been proposing (secretly and with no public review) is actually in the public interest.
 
Under TPA, Congress retains the authority to review and decide whether any proposed U.S. trade agreement will be implemented.
 
Misleading at best. Insulting to anyone with at least half a brain. Congress has significantly less authority under TPA to review and decide any trade agreement. That's because without TPA, Congress can review and question different aspects, or introduce amendments and fixes to all the stuff that the USTR screwed up. With TPA, Congress can only give an up or down vote on the entire package. That means, as long as the USTR includes enough "pork" to outweigh the crap for the majority of Congress, it can get through a ton of dangerous proposals -- like those we've already seen in the still officially "secret" intellectual property chapter.
 
TPA ENSURES TRANSPARENCY AND PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT IN TRADE

TPA bills establish consultation and notification requirements for the President to follow throughout the trade agreement negotiation process – ensuring that Congress, stakeholders and the public are closely involved before, during and after the conclusion of trade agreement negotiations.
 
It's tough to read this and not laugh. This is an out and out lie. And it's a direct insult on the public. Remember, the TPP negotiations have been going on for years, and we still don't officially know what's in the TPP, other than what's been leaked. The idea that the public is "closely involved" is an insult. The public is not involved at all, entirely by the choice of the USTR, which has chosen to keep them out. As for Congress? They're also mostly in the dark. Yes, elected officials can go see the negotiating text, but they have to go to the USTR's offices, and they're not allowed to bring any staffers, make any copies or take any notes.

The USTR keeps pretending that because it will "meet with anyone who asks" that it's being transparent. But transparency is not about listening to whoever knocks on your door. It's about the other direction: it's about providing information out to the public -- something that the USTR has absolutely refused to do. The TPA does absolutely nothing to increase transparency, and actually gives the USTR fewer incentives to be transparent because now it knows there's no real oversight any more.

The USTR is flat out lying here, and it's a disgrace.
 
In addition to our congressionally mandated committees of industry and public sector advisers, the United States consults with all interested stakeholders at each trade agreement negotiating round and in between. We do this to share information and get views that make the negotiated product better. For TPP, these stakeholders have included representatives from academia, labor unions, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations. Under TPA, this activity would continue and be strengthened.
 
Misleading again. Yes, the USTR "shares" information, but only with a very small list of advisors -- who almost exclusively come from old legacy businesses. Everyone else? The USTR's response is to give them the middle finger. The claim about consulting with "interested stakeholders" at each round is also misleading. As we've covered in the past, at many (though not all) of the negotiating rounds, there would be an hour or two where "stakeholders" would have the opportunity to sit at a table and hope negotiators came to talk to them. Sometimes this would be done far away and at times when negotiators had better things to do -- like eat lunch. Sometimes stakeholders were allowed to give presentations, but with no guarantee that any negotiators would attend.

As for using those meetings to "share information" -- that's again highly misleading. Again, the USTR has been negotiating the TPP for years and still has not released any information at all on what's in it. What we know is what's been leaked out, and that little that's been leaked shows exactly why the USTR fears transparency and fears the public: because they're crafting an agreement designed to protect a few corporate interests at the expense of just about everyone else.

An honest and forthright USTR wouldn't fear the public, and it wouldn't insult and lie to the public as is happening here. The USTR is trying to pull a fast one over on the American public. It's negotiating an agreement in secret, pretending that it's being transparent, and then encouraging Congress to give up its right to review the agreement (without even seeing it), with insulting promises that by doing so, that will create more transparency.
This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Hide Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus