Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (MI-12) today introduced the Promoting Transparency in Trade Act, a bill designed to shine more sunshine on trade negotiations that result in treaties like the much-maligned Trans-Pacific Partnership. If signed into law, the legislation will require government officials to publically release the text of ongoing trade negotiations and ensure the position of the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Transparency Officer is free from conflicts of interest.
Dingell as has been a vocal critic of the TPP, particularly with regard to its lack of prohibitions of currency manipulation by our so-called trade “partners” like China. The TPP was negotiated with little input or oversight from Congress or the public which might help include these sorts of controls.
“The debate over the TPP has made one thing abundantly clear: the American people are tired of trade deals that benefit other countries at the expense of the American worker,” said Dingell in a statement. “Our country’s trade negotiations are neither transparent nor accessible, and do not reflect input from Congress or the working men and women we represent. What is most outrageous is that the role of USTR Transparency Officer is currently held by their General Counsel – hardly an unbiased person who would be working in the interests of transparency. This legislation would ensure that future trade negotiations are open to public debate so the American people can see for themselves whether these agreements are good for them and their families, and so Congress can carry out our constitutional responsibility to ensure trade deals promote economic growth and keep jobs in this country.”
The bill requires the USTR to appoint a Transparency Officer who “does not have, or appear to have, any conflict of interest in ensuring the transparency of the activities of the Office of the Trade Representative.” The USTR would also be compelled to publicly publish text after each round of trade deal negotiations so that all interested parties can monitor the ongoing negoatiations.
Promoting Transparency in Trade Act is co-sponsored by Democratic Representatives Rick Nolan of Minnesota, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Tim Ryan of Ohio, and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois. It has the support of labor and advocacy groups including the AFL-CIO, UAW, OpenTheGovernment.org, Union of Concerned Scientists, Public Citizen, and Electronic Frontier Foundation.
It’s easy to stand on the sidelines and shout about how bad secretly-negotiated trade deals are. While that pressure is useful in shaping future policy, it takes actual changes in the law to enact those policies and that’s exactly what this legislation is all about. It doesn’t say we shouldn’t enter into trade deals with other countries; international trade is a good thing when done properly. However, if the process is done behind closed doors without public input and scrutiny, it’s far too easy for corporate interests and others to influence what goes into the treaties in order to benefit their profit statements. And, with both presidential candidates decrying the TPP, this is the perfect time to get legislation like this passed.