Thursday, Representative Debbie Dingell (D-MI) introduced H.R. 6141, the Promoting Transparency in Trade Act. OpenTheGovernment.org supports this important bill, which would make significant strides in making the United States Trade Representative (USTR) and U.S. trade negotiations more transparent.
Proposed trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) have been widely criticized, both for their provisions and for their secretive negotiating processes. These deals are negotiated almost entirely behind closed doors, with practically no public oversight despite including provisions seen as harmful to labor, the environment, and public health. The end result is public outrage when the contents of the agreements are finally revealed, and in the case of the TPP, an impending battle in Congress.
Greater transparency in the negotiating process, as well as in the USTR itself, would make future deals subject to public scrutiny before agreements are made, and ensure a more democratic process.
The Promoting Transparency in Trade Act mirrors recommendations made by OTG and partners earlier this year for inclusion in the USTR 2016 open government plan. It includes a requirement that the full text of the US position be published on a public website after each round of trade negotiations. The bill also requires that the USTR appoint a Transparency Officer who does not have, or appear to have, any conflict of interest in promoting transparency at the agency.
In a press release, Rep. Dingell said:
“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.”