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March 09, 2012

USTR May Trade Away Internet Freedom, But We Won't Know Until It's Too Late

At Wednesday's Senate Finance Committee hearing on the Obama administration's 2012 trade agenda, Senator Ron Wyden grilled U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk about the intense secrecy surrounting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. Since the TPP is set to include provisions similar to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) decried by internet freedom advocates, Americans deserve information about such a controversial policy. Sen. Wyden notes that the TPP negotiations are not a matter of national security, but are a matter of policy of broad public concern:

I’m not asking for everything to be published, and certainly, I respect your judgment with respect to, you know, issues that affect national security and classified matters.  But, issues that pertain to freedom and innovation on the net are policy questions, and the American people want the chance to participate.

The hearing heats up at minute 7:02:



Ron Kirk replies with the tired line that trade agreements could not be negotiated without this kind of secrecy, but provides no arguments or evidence to support this assertion. This claim is false on its face. The public is now provided access to negotiating documents of the WTO, arguable the most important venue for trade negotiations. There is no reason why the public should not have access to the same information for the TPP negotiations.

Not only is the text secret during the negotiations, but all TPP countries signed a secret agreement to calssify the negotiating texts for at least four years after the TPP goes into effect. After taking heat for this secret agreement that keeps everything secret, New Zealand was forced to release the text of the secrecy pact. Though neither the public nor members of Congress are permitted to view the negotiating texts, over 600 representatives from corporations have access to the texts, allowing them to steer the negotiations in their favor.

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