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Friday, October 28, 2016

The trade rules of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership between the United States and 11 Asian nations would cover nearly 40 percent of the world economy — but don’t ask what they are. Access to the text of the proposed deal is highly restricted.

Nevertheless, at last month’s World Economic Forum in Switzerland, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman defended the Obama administration from intensifying criticism of its refusal to release the full text of the proposed trade pact.

“We can always do better on transparency,” he said, but added that “there is no area of policy where there is closer collaboration between the executive and Congress than trade policy.”

Froman, who said his office has held more than 1,600 briefings with lawmakers over the TPP, asserted that his office also has released summaries of proposed provisions.

Yet the actual text of the agreement remains under lock and key. That represents a significant break from the Bush administration, which in 2001 published the text of a proposed multinational trade agreement with Latin American nations.

“It is incomprehensible to me that leaders of major corporate interests who stand to gain enormous financial benefits from this agreement are actively involved in the writing of the TPP, while at the same time, the elected officials of this country, representing the American people, have little or no knowledge of what’s in it,” wrote U.S. senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in a letter to Froman last month.

Sanders’ office confirms that congressional lawmakers are permitted to view the text of the agreement only in the Trade Representative’s office, without their own staff members or experts present. They are not allowed to take copies of the agreement back to Capitol Hill for deeper, independent evaluation.

Despite those restrictions, specific details of the agreement’s text have surfaced from unauthorized leaks — some of which appear to contradict the Obama administration’s promises.

Froman, for instance, said in Switzerland that “none of [the trade participants] want to lower our health, safety or environmental standards,” yet one of the leaks showed the U.S. proposing to empower corporations to attempt to overturn domestic regulations, while critics say another leaked provision would help the pharmaceutical industry inflate the price of medicines in poor countries.

Froman and Roberto Carvalho de Azevedo, the director-general of the World Trade Organization, were asked at the World Economic Forum why the Obama administration is concealing the TPP from the public at the same time the European Union has just published the full text of a separate proposed trade agreement with the United States. If, as the Obama administration has argued, some confidentiality is necessary for frank negotiations, was the EU wrong to publish its full proposal?

Froman suggested that nations have varying definitions of transparency.

“It is very important that as we pursue these trade negotiations we do so in a way that takes into account input from the public, from our wide range of stakeholders, our political processes — in our case, Congress — we each have different ways we engage in that process,” he said.

Azevedo said: “Honestly, this is something that the participants have to solve — the degree of openness and the degree of transparency.” Negotiations require a degree of balance between transparency and secrecy, he said, “otherwise they don’t move.”

That may be true, but the question is why? Why don’t trade deals advance when they are made public?

Perhaps because when citizens learn the details of such trade agreements, they don’t like them — and they end up putting pressure on their leaders to back off.

Trade officials seem to think that’s a bad thing. But transparency and subsequent grassroots pressure is better than secretly negotiating a trade deal that ends up defying public will.

David Sirota is a senior writer at the International Business Times and the best-selling author of the books Hostile Takeover, The Uprising and Back to Our Future. Email him at [email protected], follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at

Photo: Michael Froman on Day 4 of the WTO’s Ministerial Conference, Bali, December 3, 2013. (World Trade Organization/Flickr)

  • Dominick Vila

    Why are the details of a huge trade deal being kept secret? Probably for two reasons, (1) the American people are weary of trade deals that more often than not benefit our corporations, but hurt our workforce, and (2) because the other countries involved in this trade accord have not yet released details to their people either. It is not unusual for the details of international agreements to be kept secret, until a deal is reached and the agreement is ready for signature. Unfortunately for us, the people, by then it is too late to influence change.

    • charleo1

      I think the American people are in favor of free trade, if it is also fair trade. And I don’t believe most Americans feel any of these deals so far, have been fair. And with this one, there seems to be a very troubling fate accompli attitude. And for it’s size, and scope, I believe most Americans feel the level of secrecy amounts to the fix is in, and we’ll give you the usual bull later, on how many good jobs we’re going to see out of our expanded exports. As the balance of trade continues to go wildly out of balance, to the other participants. And the fact Congress is allowed a fleeting look at the secret deal, is no comfort al all to Americans who’s level of contempt of Congress falls somewhere between body lice, and root canals.

      • Dominick Vila

        What most Americans fail to understand is that most of the trade agreements signed in the past, and very likely this one as well, our goal is to (1) benefit corporate America, (2) increase exports, and (3) make imports more affordable. I doubt job creation in the USA has ever been part of the equation, although some good paying jobs have been created as a result of agreements like this. Boeing, our largest exporter, is an example of this.

        • charleo1

          That’s about right. And there will be some winners. However, my concern is that overall, American labor, and the American economy itself, has paid the greatest price for these trade deals. And, so far at least, it’s hard to see a real upside to more of the same for a U.S. economy that’s doing very well, in
          comparison to almost all others around the World. This according to most all of the major investment houses. The one knock they all agreed on, is the lagging wages, leading to weaker demand, slower growth, with lower projected returns over the short, and medium term in most sectors of the economy.
          It’s interesting, the medicine they prescribed to improve returns on all prospects, was significant public investment in infrastructure.

    • mike

      Nothing new from the Least Transparent Administration Ever.

      Dom, as to (1), are you saying that Obama is not for the Middle Class as he and the democrats claim??? More corporate than individual.

      This should not surprise anyone, Obama is trying to sidestep Congress on treaty with Iran.

      • Dominick Vila

        President Obama’s policies, from proposing free community education, to more affordable mortgage refinancing terms, to bailing out GM and Chrysler, to fighting inequality, have all been designed to help the middle class. However, that does not mean he is the socialist the GOP claims. Trade agreements disproportionately favor corporate America, rather than the American workforce, but contrary to popular opinion, and GOP claims, President Obama understands that a prosperous business sector often leads to more jobs and prosperity for everyone. The key is to find a balance between redistribution of wealth to corporate America, and redistribution of wealth to mainstream Americans. Part of the problem is that both political parties are so entrenched in their respective ideological priorities that neither is willing to seek middle ground.
        The details of this agreement will be revealed, probably simultaneously, by the governments of all participating nations. Until then, whatever we think or say is pure speculation.

        • mike

          You were the one stating historically that corporations are the ones that benefit in these treaties over the individual. No speculation from me.
          You sure ignored the lack of Transparency by this administration.

          • Dominick Vila

            Transparency is great, and achievable, when it involves domestic issues, but when you are negotiating an international agreement, and on matter of national security, that is neither possible nor advisable.

          • mike

            Transparcy doesn’t exist with this administration.
            As to international, some secrecy is necessary and on a need to know.
            With Iran, the admin. it is doing everything to keep Senate out of the loop.
            As to negotiating Obama is a amateur as seen from past events. In the end Obama will do anything to get a deal, at the expense of everyone.

    • Allan Richardson

      Congress and the President need to say clearly, we will NOT approve this deal UNTIL AND UNLESS the entire text has been REVEALED AND EXAMINED and found to be fair to ALL AMERICANS. The sooner we can see it the sooner we can decide. And if we don’t like EVERY part of the agreement, it will be NO DEAL.

      • Dominick Vila

        Do you remember earlier international agreements being subjected to that level of scrutiny? Do you honestly think 330 million Americans are going to examine the contents of this, or any other, trade agreement and give a thumbs up or down on it?
        Agreements, whether they are related to trade, diplomacy, cultural exchanges, geographical disputes, or an end to hostilities, are handled by the governments of the respective nations, acting on behalf of the people in the countries involved. Moreover, agreements, with the exception of tyrannical rule, always benefit all sides, and this one is not going to be an exception.

  • charleo1

    For all those admonishments we hear to wake up and smell the coffee. For me, this is the, “coffee!” And we had better wake up and smell it, if we’re going to have a Middle Class in this Country.

  • Gary Miles

    A rare subject where agreement is more likely than disagreement. A welcome change indeed. This TPP is not something that anyone should get onboard with UNTIL it is read by a large number of mainstream economists, of all political beliefs, fully read and understood by Congress (Laughed at Charleo’s comment on the contempt for them). After NAFTA, I’m not surprised people are highly questionable of the TPP. Maybe if this administration would be transparent, it would help. Not being transparent usually means something bad comes our way.
    Something for all of you to consider short term. It is a possibility that some 30 ports in the L.A. area may close due to a strike of the dock workers union. Talks broke down Wednesday night. These folks handle about 48% of all imports and exports. A shutdown would devastate our fragile economy as well as others on the other side of the planet It would most certainly equate to layoffs here at possibly thousands of business’s who export products to our West. Imports would also be naturally stopped from coming in from the West as well. Plan ahead and be safe.

  • 14hei

    The fast tracking of the Transpacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership is insane. The house and senate must have ample time to review these trade deals. And take that information to their districts for discussions with their constituents. The American people need to understand how these trade deals will affect them. An when they do I’m sure they will be against them.