USTR Still Missing the Point

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Yesterday, I attended the Senate Finance Committee Hearing on the President’s 2012 Trade Agenda. United States Trade Representative Ambassador Ron Kirk was the sole witness and testified on behalf of the Administration. The hearing was an opportunity for UTSR to soothe public concerns and address the recent scrutiny it’s received for the secretive negotiation process surrounding TPP negotiations. Instead the USTR failed to seriously address the lack of public input within negotiations.  

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) questioned the Administration’s commitment to transparency by highlighting constituent concerns over being shut out of a process that affects the Internet in the Administration’s efforts to combat intellectual property theft. Kirk assured members that TPP contained no provisions that would prevent the free flow of information, even though a leaked text suggests it would do just that. It seemed that Wyden and Kirk were having two different conversations, as Kirk denied the connection between ACTA and TPP on the one hand, and the now stalled SOPA/PIPA legislation on the other. Wyden illustrated how they were similar because the public felt shut out from both processes. Dismissing the public as misinformed for wanting to be a part of the process illustrates how disconnected from public opinion the USTR is.

Kirk defended the negotiation process as one of the most open, highlighting over 350 consultations with Congress, and many more with stake holders, stating that any provisions within the TPP would follow guidelines set forth by the DMCA. The problem here is the definition of “stake holder”. The USTR seems to think that only corporate interests can be “stakeholders” as shown by the current membership of the advisory committee responsible for advising the USTR. These members include only corporate representatives who received a security clearance to participate. There is no public interest representation within the committee. The public has also been denied access to relevant documents that are classified as confidential.

Public interest representation is important because the Internet has no single representative; it is a public resource and a powerful tool for innovation. The public deserves to be heard when international agreements or US law would affect the Internet. SOPA and PIPA did not allow such input. And the TPP continues to make that same mistake.

I understand that the United States may not be able to lay all its cards on the table during a complex negotiation process; but I do expect to receive meaningful information about the USTR’s activities. I think Kirk should add inclusion to his list of guiding principles. At yesterday’s hearing, he missed an opportunity to do so and soothe over any concern over its negotiation process.

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