Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Right's Insane Distortions About Trade Agreement Secrecy

I encountered this horrible piece at Cato on the subject of trade promotion authority (i.e. "fast track") with respect to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. First, it's important to notice that Cato here seems to have gone all-in with the Hollywood copyright maximalists, covering for both their secrecy and prior activity, declaring it a "myth" that "TPP is being negotiated via a dangerous and unprecedented level of secrecy".  As with net neutrality, people who normally would oppose corporatist shenanigans are lining up to misrepresent what's actually going on here. And again, it's Techdirt that provides coverage about the reality on the ground. Cato:
Myth 5: TPP is being negotiated via a dangerous and unprecedented level of secrecy! Totally false. Probably the most-repeated myth right now isn’t even related to TPA but instead to the TPP, which is still being negotiated. According to the anti-TPA script, the TPP is so secret that nobody knows what’s in it, and—much like Obamacare legislation—nobody, not even Congress, will know what’s in it until the agreement is passed into law. Once again, however, nothing could be further from the truth:
  • First, Obama’s USTR and Congress have been consulting on the TPP since December 14, 2009, when then-USTR Kirk notified Congress that President Obama intended to enter into TPP negotiations. USTR then held initial consultations with Congress in 2010 and, according to a January 2015 fact-sheet, has since held almost 1,700 congressional briefings on TPP alone. USTR also previewed various TPP proposals with key congressional committees before taking them to our trading partners. (Odd that the TPP talks have been going on for six years, but the vast majority of these “secrecy” complaints have only emerged in the last few months, huh?)
 Meanwhile, the reality is that the American public has no idea what's in the draft treaty, and that's largely because their elected representatives are being kept in the dark as well:
...[E]ven the fact that members of Congress can actually see the document is tremendously misleading. Yes, members of Congress are allowed to walk over to the USTR and see a copy of the latest text. But they're not allowed to take any notes, make any copies or bring any of their staff members. In other words, they can only read the document and keep what they remember in their heads. And they can't have their staff members -- the folks who often really understand the details -- there to explain what's really going on.
As the link in the text above explains, it's telling who can see the drafts — and who can't: "The MPAA, Comcast, PHRMA" and other trade groups all have free run, but a sitting US Senator and his staff cannot? Ron Wyden:
The majority of Congress is being kept in the dark as to the substance of the TPP negotiations, while representatives of U.S. corporations – like Halliburton, Chevron, PHRMA, Comcast, and the Motion Picture Association of America – are being consulted and made privy to details of the agreement.
Yup, that's what the man said. And in fact, drafts are classified, which means leaking the text could result in jail time for the leakers. (Somebody at Wikileaks is in trouble, and ditto the USTR, likely.) Cato disingenuously omits key and ominous details. So when Cato writes that the "USTR has provided “access to the full negotiating texts for any Member of Congress, including for Members to view at their convenience in the Capitol, accompanied by staff members with appropriate security clearance.”", they're being very coy about what "access" might mean, just as they are when they say the "USTR has engaged the public on the TPP via published reports and “stakeholder meetings” with groups like labor unions, consumer groups, and, of course, corporations and trade associations." These are dog and pony shows unless we know the contents of the treaty. And what we do know looks remarkably like a giveaway to large corporate interests.

1 comment:

  1. Just for the record, conservatives in general take your position on this issue. I note that the Cato institute is expressly libertarian.