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More than 130 Democrats ask for transparency in Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks

As reported by Inside U.S. Trade and Bloomberg today, more than 130 House Democrats have written to the United States Trade Representative (USTR) criticizing the direction it is taking in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks as well as the lack of transparency and consultation with Congress. A copy of the letter, obtained by Inside U.S. Trade and addressed to USTR Ron Kirk, says (emphasis mine):

The TPP FTA represents an opportunity to create a new, sustainable model that respects domestic policy choices and promotes economic development with shared prosperity. Unfortunately, reports indicate the agreement is likely to repeat, rather than improve upon, the existing trade template–including the weakening of Buy America provisions, providing extraordinary investor-state privileges, and restricting access to lifesaving medicines in developing nations, to name a few.

Since the United States will be obliged to bring existing and future U.S. policies into compliance with the norms established in the TPP FTA, the negotiations USTR is pursuing will create binding policies on future Congresses in numerous areas. These could include those related to labor, patent and copyright, land use, food, agriculture and product standards, natural resources, professional licensing, state-owned enterprises and government procurement policies, as well as financial, healthcare, energy, telecommunications and other service sector regulations.

The U.S. congresspeople who signed the letter point out “representatives from over 600 business interests have such access to both USTR negotiators and the negotiating text.” That’s not the case for small business owners, civil society “and other interests who have a direct and long-term interest in the outcome of these negotiations have little meaningful input.”

HARPER SAYS CETA MOST TRANSPARENT TRADE DEAL EVER

Sound familiar? They have found bulletproof evidence in the U.S. that business lobbyists can access TPP text through a secure website while everyone else is kept in the dark. In Canada, it’s not clear the Canada-Europe Round Table for business (CERT) or other lobby groups are as lucky when it comes to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) negotiations. But it is simply not true that they are “the most… transparent, and inclusive in Canada’s history,” as the Harper government says in a response, posted online yesterday, to the parliamentary trade committee report on CETA.

Like in the TPP negotiations, government officials and negotiators provide briefings from time to time on the status of the CETA talks. But there is no opportunity for groups to alter the mandate Canada’s negotiators have been given by the Harper government, which remains secret. There is no opportunity for Members of Parliament to look at the text before a deal is signed, to see if it’s the right way to go or if it gives up too much in the same areas as mentioned above by U.S. congresspeople.

EXAMPLES OF MORE OPEN TRADE NEGOTIATIONS

The letter to USTR offers examples of where there was more transparency and dialogue on a trade negotiation:

– a full draft text of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) was released in 2001 during negotiations on the 34-nation pact

– the World Trade Organization now posts composite negotiating texts on its website, including various texts curing the Doha round of negotiations; and

– a draft text of the recently completed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) was released.

“We would urge you to adopt a similar approach in the context of TPP FTA talks, especially now that there are draft texts with bracketed provisions for most chapters of the prospective pact,” says the U.S. letter. “To the extent that secrecy provisions in the [Memorandum of Understanding] preclude the unilateral release of negotiating text, then we would urge you to work with our TPP negotiating partners to obtain their consent to do so and inform us if there are countries that are unwilling to cooperate.”

Canada, as a second-rate participant in the TPP discussions, has not yet seen any of the text, will not sit as even an observer during the next two or three rounds of negotiations, and will not have the right to change any text already agreed to by the time Ottawa finally gets to the TPP table in December. In other words, don’t count on Canada to support these U.S. calls for transparency.

The Council of Canadians will be part of a media briefing tomorrow organized by U.S. opponents of the TPP. For more information on the pacific trade pact or CETA, see www.canadians.org/trade.