US lawmakers may soon introduce legislation to give the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) a “fast-track” through Congress. Senate Finance committee leaders Sen. Max Baucus and Sen. Orrin Hatch have renewed their call to pass such fast-track legislation and hand over Congress' constitutional power to set the terms of US trade policy. Instead, under fast-track, (also known as Trade Promotion Authority) lawmakers would be limited to an up-or-down vote, and shirk their responsibility to hold proper hearings on its provisions.
President Obama's trade negotiator, then, gets more leeway to push for unfair provisions that could not withstand public scrutiny. In other words: free rein to finalize agreements like TPP and the upcoming EU-US trade agreement. It is not surprising that Sen. Baucus and Sen. Hatch are the ones leading the charge, given they've been supporters of TPP from the beginning and have loudly touted the importance of fast-track to get this undemocratic agreement passed.
That's dangerous, because the TPP has been negotiated in secret and includes a wide range of provisions that would negatively impact the Internet and our digital rights. Corporate advisors have had easy access to see and comment and draft text while Congress and the public have had little to no ability to influence its provisions.
US Trade Representative Michael Froman admitted this week that he's recently been spending most of his time lobbying both Democratic and Republican Congress members to introduce and support a bill to authorize fast-track. Froman says that this authority would be “a manifestation of the partnership between Congress and the executive on trade policy and really gives Congress a very important and meaningful role in both the substance and the process of trade negotiations.” It's a strange thing to say when the opposite is true: it would actually give the Obama administration almost full control over trade deals.
Last week EFF and 13 other organizations—including Amnesty International, Demand Progress, Free Software Foundation, and Knowledge Ecology International—sent a letter to the heads of US Congressional committees explaining that it is vitally important that democratically elected representatives are given the opportunity to review and amend international agreements to ensure that users' rights are included. They should not ignore the public interest by rubber-stamping agreements negotiated in near total secrecy.
Fast track is the final step of locking the public out of trade negotiations. Congress, civil society, and the public at large should be consulted from the beginning over agreements like TPP. Compounding this problem, according to the Congressional Research Service, the US Trade Rep is negotiating TPP as if fast track authority is in place, acting as if it has the unilateral authority to further a one-sided agenda.
We need to demand that lawmakers oppose fast track, that they call for hearings, and that they exercise their authority to oversee the US trade office’s secret copyright agenda.