The WTO Antigua case on Internet gambling has highlighted many of the problems with our current trade policymaking process - the hazards of Fast Track-enabled trade agreements that undermine the public interest and ignore state and local officials, overreach and interfere with our domestic policy, and can trigger millions of dollars in compensation to other WTO countries. Now, the problems with the secrecy of this compensation and negotiation process have come to light.
According to a new CQ article (sorry, not linkable), the compensation agreed on between the US and EU, Canada, and Japan for withdrawing the gambling sector from our WTO commitments is classified for national security reasons.
Ed Brayton (a freelance writer who opposes the government’s anti-gambling measures) filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative after the deal was announced in December. He says he just wanted to know precisely how much the United States was conceding in the December deal to maintain its gambling ban. The agency’s chief FOIA officer, Carmen Suro-Bredie, replied that the USTR was withholding the agreement because it was “classified in the interest of national security.”
Although upon announcing the agreement, USTR said it involved "commitments to maintain our liberalized markets for warehousing services, technical testing services, research and development services and postal services relating to outbound international letters," they are apparently refusing to tell the public any further information. Instead of taking the opportunity to learn from the colossal mistake of committing gambling to the WTO and now include more state officials and the public in the process, the USTR is continuing to conduct US trade policy in a shroud of secrecy.
Hopefully, Brayton's persistence will pay off:
Brayton says he’s planning to appeal the denial, which would force the trade office to explain why the agreement implicates national security. He says he suspects the agency may have something else in mind: hiding what could amount to billions of dollars in trade concessions.
“I can’t even imagine a reasonable explanation other than that in the furthest reaches of my imagination,” he says.