« May 2013 | Main | July 2013 »

Pressure Pays Off: Obama Administration Finally Lets Congress See Secretive TPP Text (But Still Not the Rest of Us)

For once, we have some good news.  After years of calling for release of the secretive draft text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), we have achieved an interim victory.  

No, you still can't yet get a look at the sweeping 12-country "free trade" agreement (FTA) that implicates everything from your morning Internet browsing to your evening dinner.  But for the first known time in the three years that the secretive deal has been under negotiation by the Obama administration, said administration has allowed a member of Congress to view three chapters of the bracketed negotiating text.  (In case you're just hearing about this, that's correct: even our elected officials have been kept in the dark on a deal that would rewrite broad swaths of domestic public interest policies.)  

7986556189_1d70f55e0b_zLast week, Congressman Alan Grayson (FL-09) got a peek at the controversial pact after requesting access from the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).  After similar requests from many members of Congress, including some who received ‘no’ answers from the administration, it appears that Grayson is the FIRST member of Congress to see some of the text.  Upon eyeing the deal, Grayson said, "Having seen what I've seen, I would characterize this as a gross abrogation of American sovereignty.  And I would further characterize it as a punch in the face to the middle class of America.  I think that's fair to say from what I've seen so far.  But I'm not allowed to tell you why!" 

The change in the Obama administration's transparency-defying lockdown of the TPP text comes after a wave of high-profile pressure on the administration to release the text.  Last year produced a steady drumbeat of congressional calls for TPP transparency, including a letter from 132 members of Congress to USTR that protested the "needless secrecy" of the deal.  In September, an online petition calling for a "transparent and accountable" TPP process garnered more than 700,000 signatures. This year began with a letter from over 400 diverse civil society organizations that indicted the continued secrecy as "not consistent with democratic principles."  

This month, the drumbeat crescendoed.  On June 2, the New York Times published our "Obama's Covert Trade Deal" op-ed that concluded, "the secrecy of the Trans-Pacific Partnership process represents a huge assault on the principles and practice of democratic governance. That is untenable in the age of transparency, especially coming from an administration that is otherwise so quick to trumpet its commitment to open government."  Two days later, the Washington Post published an op-ed by Harold Meyerson that lamented, "the administration has kept congressional input on TPP to a minimum — more precisely, at zero."  

Three days later, two-thirds of the Democratic freshmen in the House of Representatives signed a letter that lambasted the administration's TPP secrecy: "Unfortunately, today TPP FTA talks continue in extreme secrecy.  The administration has yet to release draft texts after more than three years of negotiations, and the few TPP FTA texts that have leaked reveal serious problems."   

Capping off the parade of pressure for TPP transparency, on Thursday Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA) sent a letter to Michael Froman, Obama's pick to be the next top U.S. trade official, requesting that he "make fully public the bracketed text of the TPP."  She criticized the lack of TPP transparency, arguing, "Without transparency, the benefit from robust democratic participation -- an open marketplace of ideas -- is considerably reduced."  

It seems this growing chorus of calls to release the TPP text has finally pushed the Obama administration to let at least one member of Congress get a look at the deal.  We hope and expect that revelations to other members of Congress will now follow.  

Meanwhile, the rest of us are still shut out.  Upon granting Congressman Grayson a glimpse at the text, USTR apparently instructed him in no uncertain terms to keep mum about what he saw.  Grayson said, "I get clearance because I'm a member of Congress, but now they tell me that they don't want me to talk to anybody about it because if I did, I'd be releasing classified information...It is ironic in a way that the government thinks it's alright to have a record of every single call that an American makes, but not alright for an American citizen to know what sovereign powers the government is negotiating away."

The calls for transparency listed above did not merely argue that the TPP text should be revealed to Congress, but to the broader public who would have to bear the brunt of the FTA's impact.  As Senator Warren stated in her letter, "if members of the public do not have reasonable access to the terms of the agreements under negotiation, then they are unable to offer real input into the process."  Real public input is critical for a deal that threatens everything from Internet freedom to medicines access, from food safety to financial stability.  

As we noted in our New York Times op-ed, "Even the George W. Bush administration, hardly a paragon of transparency, published online the draft text of the last similarly sweeping agreement, called the Free Trade Area of the Americas, in 2001."  You would hope the Obama administration could at least match the transparency of the Bush administration and publish online the text of largest U.S. "trade" deal to date.  We'll continue pushing until that modest request is also granted.  

Print Friendly and PDF

Amid G8 Hoopla, Much-Hyped U.S.-EU Deal Hits Snags Before Negotiations Even Start

Projections of Pact’s Boost to Economic Growth Inflated, While Contentions over Data Privacy, Food Safety and Other Issues Exacerbated by Recent Developments

In the wake of President Barack Obama’s announcement at the G8 Summit of the imminent launch of negotiations on the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA), the benefits of such a deal remain in question. Further complicating the pact are rifts between EU member states on its contents, recent U.S. revelations about the National Security Agency’s indiscriminate collection of private data, and wheat supplies contaminated by unapproved genetically modified organism (GMO) varieties.

Tariffs between the United States and the EU are already quite low, thus projections of gains from this deal rely on hypothetical efficiency gains from changes to domestic regulatory standards. Yet, even studies used to project a “benefit” from the deal indicate that neither consumers nor legislators would allow most food safety standards, financial stability measures and environmental protections to be dismantled in the name of reducing “barriers.” France’s recent stand on preserving its cultural promotion policies that resulted in the sector being excluded from the EU’s negotiating mandate for the talks is an example of the obstacles corporations face in trying to remove many non-trade domestic policies. Those studies, however, do not take into consideration the economic and social costs of rolling back the long list of health, environmental and consumer safeguards targeted by the multinational corporations now driving the trade agreement’s agenda.

“The claims that this deal will somehow be an economic cure-all and generate significant growth are simply not supported by any reliable evidence, but we do know that the talks are based on the demands of U.S. and EU corporations that have been pushing for decades to eliminate the best consumer, environmental and financial standards on either side of the Atlantic,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “This ‘deal’ is shaping up to be just another vehicle for the largest U.S. and EU corporations to sneak in provisions they cannot enact through open democratic processes and leave citizens exposed to another financial crisis, unsafe foods and severe burdens on Internet freedom and innovation.”

Studies projecting efficiency gains from TAFTA have employed theoretical models that, according to the U.N., rest on “strong assumptions” that when modified can cause the theoretical gains to disappear. Meanwhile, actual empirical evidence from prior attempts at “non-tariff barrier” elimination has indicated negligible efficiency gains. Certain costs and uncertain benefits spell a net loss to the economy from any deal targeting critical safeguards.

The use of GMOs in the United States has long been a contentious U.S.-EU trade issue, but now faces growing scrutiny after the discovery of unapproved genetically modified wheat in Oregon. The revelation has made European consumers, already averse to genetically altered foods, all the more resistant to the calls of U.S. agribusinesses to reduce or eliminate European restrictions on GMOs via TAFTA.

Another point of controversy remains telecommunications security. As Deputy United States Trade Representative Michael Punke noted, the NSA’s indiscriminate spying on customers’ telephone records will make negotiations with the EU, whose data privacy protections are significantly more rigorous than those in the U.S., much more difficult. EU law requires U.S. corporations to meet seven privacy criteria before transferring Europeans’ phone, health and financial records to the United States, in part due to (now confirmed) fears that the U.S. government could access the private data.

In addition, the deal’s proposed expansion of the notorious “investor-state” system would empower foreign corporations to skirt U.S. legal systems and directly challenge domestic health, environmental and other public interest policies before extrajudicial foreign tribunals authorized to order taxpayer compensation. After U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) sent a single email to supporters last month to alert them to this extreme provision, about 10,000 people lambasted the investor privileges within 32 hours in comments to the Obama administration. The flood of concern signaled the public outcry that should be expected if U.S. negotiators pursue the expansion of investor privileges through TAFTA, Wallach said.

Print Friendly and PDF

New Report: How the U.S.-EU Trade Deal would Grant Sweeping Corporate Privileges

The Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) is in trouble.  Report after report has indicated that the massive U.S.-EU deal is on shaky ground now that the NSA spying scandal has fueled European privacy concerns and botched the hopes of U.S. telecommunications firms to use the deal to downsize data privacy protections. The discovery of an unapproved strain of genetically-modified wheat in Oregon has also thrown water on plans for the deal, stoking European resistance to U.S. agribusiness's calls for TAFTA to be used to dismantle Europe's GMO labeling policies.  And France's refusal to accept Hollywood's demands to fill French TV with U.S. movies has only further crippled prospects for the deal.  

But there's another polemical component of TAFTA that could prove just as critical in contributing to the deal's unraveling: the extreme corporate privileges of the "investor-state" system slated for inclusion in the pact.  About 10,000 people in the U.S. lambasted this extreme provision within 32 hours last month, spurred by a single email, in comments to the Obama administration on TAFTA.  

The incredible inclusion of the investor-state disptue settlement regime in TAFTA was first revealed when the German blog Netzpolitik leaked the EU Council’s mandate to the European Commission to negotiate the deal. This extreme system empowers corporations to circumvent domestic court systems and directly challenge a government’s public interest laws before a three-person, extrajudicial tribunal if the corporations feel the laws affect their ability to make a profit.  Corporations have already used the system to attack a slew of environmental and health policies, resulting in tribunal orders for taxpayers to pay more than $3.5 billion to foreign corporations under U.S. trade and investment deals alone.

6a00d83452507269e201901d08a3c8970b-800wiCorporate Europe Observatory and the Transnational Institute have teamed up to publish a joint report taking a closer look at how the inclusion of investor privileges in the agreement would grant exorbitant rights to corporations and threaten crucial public interest laws in both the U.S. and the EU.

The report outlines the lobbying efforts of corporations advocating for the inclusion of investor privileges in the agreement. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said in a statement to USTR that the investment chapter of the U.S.–EU trade pact should serve as "the 'gold standard’ for other investment agreements.” Chevron has requested that TAFTA require governments to fulfill foreign investors' "expectations" and that such investor privileges cover “both existing and future investments."  Chevron is intimately familiar with the investor-state system, having launched an investor-state case against Ecuador to avoid paying the $18 billion that Ecuadorian courts have ordered the company to hand over to clean up its mass-contamination of the Amazonian rainforest. 

Corporations in the U.S. and EU are already the most frequent (ab)users of the investor-state system, having launched cases under existing "trade" and investment deals to challenge important domestic regulations such as green energy and medicines policies, bans on harmful chemicals, and environmental restrictions on mining, among others.

The sheer number of cross-investing corporations in the EU and U.S. increases the risk of investor-state disputes if TAFTA (also known as TTIP) would take effect.  According to the report : 

“The tremendous volume of transatlantic investment – both partners make up for more than half of foreign direct investment in each others' economies – hints at the sheer scale of the risk of such litigation wars. Additionally, thousands of EU and US companies have affiliates across the Atlantic; under TTIP they could make investor-state claims via these affiliates in order to compel their own governments to refrain from regulations they dislike.”

The inclusion of the investor-state system in this proposed U.S.-EU deal is even more incredible considering the ostensible premise for the extreme regime.  The stated justification for empowering foreign corporations to completely circumvent a domestic legal system and have their case against a sovereign government heard by an extrajudicial tribunal of three private attorneys has been that some domestic legal systems are too ill-functioning to trust.  That accusation is hardly one that either the U.S. or EU are likely to levy at each other. Again, from the report: 

“One of the usual arguments for investor-state arbitration – the need to grant legal security to attract foreign investors to countries with weak court systems – turns to dust in the context of TTIP. If US and EU investors already make up for more than half of foreign direct investment in each others' economies, then it is clear that investors seem to be happy enough with the rule of law on both sides of the Atlantic.”

For more information about the dangers of the investor-state regime and its expansion through TAFTA, please check out the full report.

Print Friendly and PDF

Verizon Sees “Trade” Deal as the Next “Share Everything” Plan

We’ve often reported on the surprising array of “non-trade” issues tucked away in so-called “trade” deals.  Today’s “trade” agreements implicate daily facets of life from medicine prices to Internet freedom to food safety standards.  This week Verizon added another sensitive area to that “trade”-implicated list: personal privacy. 

Corporate events in Washington have been abuzz with talk of two new “trade” agreements: the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) between the U.S. and EU, and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) involving the U.S., EU and 20 other countries.  Both deals aim to use World Trade Organization rules hatched in the deregulation-happy 1990s as the blueprint for restricting the regulation of service sectors such as telecommunications.

Why should we care about “trade” rules impacting telecommunications policies?  In a word: privacy.  Last week’s landmark leak from Edward Snowden revealed that the U.S. National Security Agency is indiscriminately spying on Verizon customers’ telephone records. This week, a Verizon representative speaking on a pro-TISA panel expressed the company’s hope that the “trade” deal can be used to keep privacy policies in check.  (It was perhaps not the most couth timing for Verizon-produced criticism of privacy protections.) 

Verizon Share everythingThe Verizon rep was probably most disgruntled about privacy policies in the EU, a negotiating member of TISA and TAFTA.  The EU’s data privacy protections are significantly more rigorous than those in the U.S. in ensuring that private data can be kept private.  And EU law requires U.S. corporations to meet seven privacy criteria before transferring Europeans’ phone, health, and financial records to the United States, in part due to (now confirmed) fears that the U.S. government could access the private data under the broad provisions of the Patriot Act.  But it appears that Verizon would now like to place these EU cross-border data privacy protections in TISA’s crosshairs.  During the TISA event, the Verizon rep stated that the deal should be used to “make sure that privacy rules do not undermine these seamless data flows” between other TISA countries and the U.S. 

As much of the country criticizes the NSA for secretly collecting private phone records from everyone with a Verizon phone, Verizon itself is taking a different tack: naming “privacy rules” as excessive and “seamless data flows” as insufficient.  They seem to have the diagnosis backwards. 

But through TISA and TAFTA, Verizon clearly hopes to advance that diagnosis, using the deals as a second "Share Everything" plan: an opportunity to impose a ceiling on data privacy protections for the company’s convenience. 

The NSA-Verizon scandal will not help their cause.  U.S. trade officials acknowledged this week that the Verizon data handover, along with NSA’s PRISM spying program, is fueling criticism in Europe of the proposed “trade” deals.  It turns out that the Europeans aren’t too anxious to “seamlessly” transfer their personal information to servers falling under blanket government surveillance.  Having already unwittingly handed over our own information, that's a position those of us in the U.S. should understand. 

Print Friendly and PDF

Obama's Top Trade Official Nominee: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Yesterday was the Senate Finance Committee's confirmation hearing for Michael Froman, Obama's pick to be the next U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).  

If confirmed, Froman would replace Ron Kirk, who left his post as the top U.S. trade official in March to take a job at a corporate law firm that specializes in defending multinational corporations against claims of vast environmental damage, including helping Chevron evade payment of $18 billion in damages for decades of pollution in Ecuador's Amazon.  

We've been a tad skeptical of Obama's pick of Froman, given his Wall Street roots and his role in crafting the much-maligned North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the deficit-plagued Korea FTA.  

Here's what went down at yesterday's hearing, divided by the time-honored categories of good, bad, and ugly: 

The Good (maybe)

  • Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) raised the fact that "Wall Street and industry-friendly European regulators are now seeking to use any means they can to roll back some of the reforms" enacted since the 2008 financial crisis to rein in banks' excessive risk-taking.  Specifically, he mentioned that big banks on both sides of the Atlantic are trying to use the newly-hatched Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) as a backdoor means of attacking controls on risky derivatives, too-big-to-fail regulations and other Wall Street reforms included in the Dodd-Frank reregulatory law.  Froman responded by promising, "There is nothing that we are going to do through a trade agreement to weaken our financial regulation, to roll back Dodd-Frank, or to roll back the efforts that the administration and Congress have worked on for the last four years to reform our financial regulatory system here."  Really?  If honored, Froman's promise would represent an about-face in U.S. trade policy.  USTR is currently pushing provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that would prohibit bans on risky derivatives, counteract too-big-to-fail regulations, and bar capital controls -- the very deregulatory moves that Froman says are now off the table.  Will Froman halt USTR's legacy of helping banks use "trade" deals to water down financial regulation?  Given Froman's Citigroup stomping grounds, we're skeptical.  But so long as Froman's in the business of promising change, we're in the business of holding him to that promise.   

The Bad

  • Sen. Brown also highlighted the incredible proposal to include the extreme investor privileges of past NAFTA-style deals in the U.S.-EU deal (TAFTA). The proposal -- to empower foreign corporations to circumvent domestic courts and directly challenge health and environmental policies before extrajudicial tribunals authorized to order taxpayer compensation -- sparked a flood of critical comments from the public to USTR last month.  Brown asked, "Do we need an extrajudicial and private enforcement system when U.S. and European property rights are...advanced and protected already?"  Froman dodged the question, saying the matter was a "topic worthy of discussion."  More aptly, it's a topic worthy of an answer.  The appropriate response to Brown's yes-or-no question would have been, "No. Empowering foreign corporations to completely circumvent our courts is unnecessary for investor protection, insults basic democratic tenets, and threatens consumers' health and taxpayers' wallets."  
  • Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) raised the extraordinary secrecy shrouding the Obama administration's trade negotiations to date.  Wyden has blasted USTR's incredible decision to keep the negotiating text of the sweeping TPP pact, affecting everything from food safety to Internet freedom, hidden from the U.S. public and even from members of Congress.  Not even the Bush administration attempted that degree of secrecy.  Wyden asked, "If confirmed, will you make sure that the public...gets a clear and updated description of what trade negotiators are seeking to obtain in the negotiations so that we can make this process more transparent in the future?" Wyden further asked that negotiating texts be placed online.  Froman responded by saying he agrees with the principle of transparency.  But instead of committing to a meaningful fulfillment of that principle by releasing the TPP text online (as done under Bush), he reiterated USTR's general desire to seek input from "stakeholders."  It is of course difficult for stakeholders to provide meaningful input if they cannot see the thing in which they have a stake.   
The Ugly
  • Gothmog1Froman (and Obama) plan to pursue Fast Track: "If confirmed, I will engage with you to renew Trade Promotion Authority. TPA is a critical tool."  Fast Track, cynically rebranded "Trade Promotion Authority," is indeed a tool.  A battering ram sort of tool.  A tool that, before allowed to expire, was used to shove unpopular "trade" deals like NAFTA through Congress by empowering the executive branch to negotiate and sign the sweeping pacts before sending them to Congress for a no-amendments, limited-debate, expedited, post-facto vote.  Click here for a full analysis of Fast Track's democracy-curtailing, NAFTA-enabling track record.  If past is precedent, any attempt from Froman to refurbish this antiquated legislative ramrod would prove vastly unpopular among the U.S. public and Congress.  We'll see if Froman, despite the political liability, makes good on his threat to, as one of his first acts, pick a Fast Track fight.  
Print Friendly and PDF

Under Korea FTA, U.S. Trade Deficit Surges to Highest Point in History (Again)

April was another record-breaking month for U.S. trade with Korea under the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA).  The monthly U.S. trade deficit with Korea soared to its highest point in history, topping $2.5 billion for the month of April alone.  

According to a ratio used by the Obama administration, the unprecedented deficit surge implies 13,500 U.S. jobs lost to trade with Korea in just thirty days.  April's trade deficit with Korea was 30% higher than in April 2012 -- the first full month of FTA implementation -- and 90% higher than in April 2011, before the FTA took effect.  

The deficit increase owes largely to a dramatic drop in U.S. exports to Korea since enactment of the FTA.  U.S. exports to Korea in April once again fell below the levels seen in any given month in the year before the FTA took effect.  The sorry track record defies the promise (FTA = more exports) that the Obama administration used to pass the FTA.  Undeterred by the facts, today the administration is using the same worn-out promise to sell the Trans-Pacific Partnership

April 2013

The downfall in U.S. exports to Korea under the FTA has particularly afflicted sectors that, ironically, the administration had singled out as projected winners under the deal -- namely U.S. meat producers.  In April of this year, U.S. beef exports to Korea fell to 43% below the pre-FTA level seen in April 2011, while U.S. pork exports plummeted 66% below the April 2011 level.  In the first full year of FTA implementation, beef exports fell 8%, pork exports dropped 24%, and poultry exports plunged 41% in comparison to the year before the FTA took effect.  

For more on how U.S. food exports (and imports) have fared under deals like the Korea FTA, check out our brand new briefing paper: Let them Eat Imports.  The exposé presents new evidence, arguments, and a smorgasbord of graphs to show how lackluster agricultural exports and soaring food imports under FTAs have jeopardized farmers' livelihoods and consumers' safety. 

Print Friendly and PDF

3,000 Pills for Peru's President: Action Exposes TPP Risk to Public Health

Last week, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala received an unorthodox delivery: activists dropped off more than 3,000 pills at his presidential palace.


Just days after President Humala met with President Obama in Washington, representatives from Peruvian civil society arrived by ambulance to deliver more than 3,000 petition signatures and the same number of pills.  The delivery sought to highlight the risk posed to public health if Peru would bind itself to a controversial U.S. condition in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP): that pharmaceutical companies' monopoly patent protections be expanded at the expense of cheap generic drugs.  The activists demanded that the President publicly declare key issues as non-negotiable, such as the right to generic competition for medicines, freedom to innovate and use the Internet, and the defense of critical health and environmental safeguards threatened by the deal's proposed investor privileges.

The civil society delegation -- members of patient organizations, labor unions, Internet freedom groups, and individuals affected by mining pollution -- built on the momentum from last month’s actions surrounding the TPP negotiating round in Lima to remind President Humala that their rights to health, a clean environment, and Internet freedom are ¡No Negociable! (not negotiable).


Print Friendly and PDF

New York Times: Obama's Covert Trade Deal

The New York Times


Obama’s Covert Trade Deal

Published: June 2, 2013

WASHINGTON — THE Obama administration has often stated its commitment to open government. So why is it keeping such tight wraps on the contents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the most significant international commercial agreement since the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1995?

The agreement, under negotiation since 2008, would set new rules for everything from food safety and financial markets to medicine prices and Internet freedom. It would include at least 12 of the countries bordering the Pacific and be open for more to join. President Obama has said he wants to sign it by October.

Although Congress has exclusive constitutional authority to set the terms of trade, so far the executive branch has managed to resist repeated requests by members of Congress to see the text of the draft agreement and has denied requests from members to attend negotiations as observers — reversing past practice.

While the agreement could rewrite broad sections of nontrade policies affecting Americans’ daily lives, the administration also has rejected demands by outside groups that the nearly complete text be publicly released. Even the George W. Bush administration, hardly a paragon of transparency, published online the draft text of the last similarly sweeping agreement, called the Free Trade Area of the Americas, in 2001.

There is one exception to this wall of secrecy: a group of some 600 trade “advisers,” dominated by representatives of big businesses, who enjoy privileged access to draft texts and negotiators.

This covert approach is a major problem because the agreement is more than just a trade deal. Only 5 of its 29 chapters cover traditional trade matters, like tariffs or quotas. The others impose parameters on nontrade policies. Existing and future American laws must be altered to conform with these terms, or trade sanctions can be imposed against American exports.

Remember the debate in January 2012 over the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would have imposed harsh penalties for even the most minor and inadvertent infraction of a company’s copyright? The ensuing uproar derailed the proposal. But now, the very corporations behind SOPA are at it again, hoping to reincarnate its terms within the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s sweeping proposed copyright provisions.

From another leak, we know the pact would also take aim at policies to control the cost of medicine. Pharmaceutical companies, which are among those enjoying access to negotiators as “advisers,” have long lobbied against government efforts to keep the cost of medicines down. Under the agreement, these companies could challenge such measures by claiming that they undermined their new rights granted by the deal.

And yet another leak revealed that the deal would include even more expansive incentives to relocate domestic manufacturing offshore than were included in Nafta — a deal that drained millions of manufacturing jobs from the American economy.

The agreement would also be a boon for Wall Street and its campaign to water down regulations put in place after the 2008 financial crisis. Among other things, it would practically forbid bans on risky financial products, including the toxic derivatives that helped cause the crisis in the first place.

Of course, the agreement must eventually face a Congressional vote, which means that one day it will become public.

So why keep it a secret? Because Mr. Obama wants the agreement to be given fast-track treatment on Capitol Hill. Under this extraordinary and rarely used procedure, he could sign the agreement before Congress voted on it. And Congress’s post-facto vote would be under rules limiting debate, banning all amendments and forcing a quick vote.

Ron Kirk, until recently Mr. Obama’s top trade official, was remarkably candid about why he opposed making the text public: doing so, he suggested to Reuters, would raise such opposition that it could make the deal impossible to sign.

Michael Froman, nominated to be Mr. Kirk’s replacement, will most likely become the public face of the administration’s very private negotiations and the apparent calculation that underlies them. As someone whose professional experience has been during the Internet era, he must know that such extreme secrecy is bound to backfire.

Whatever one thinks about “free trade,” the secrecy of the Trans-Pacific Partnership process represents a huge assault on the principles and practice of democratic governance. That is untenable in the age of transparency, especially coming from an administration that is otherwise so quick to trumpet its commitment to open government.

Lori Wallach is the director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, where Ben Beachy is the research director.

Print Friendly and PDF