The newest round of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations begin today in Salt Lake City, Utah, where trade representatives will work towards finalizing the text of this sprawling secret agreement. Last week's publication of the controversial "Intellectual Property" chapter by Wikileaks confirmed our worst fears: the TPP carries draconian copyright enforcement provisions that threaten users' rights and could stifle innovation well into the 21st Century. Public opposition to the TPP continues to grow as a result of the leaked document; an opaque policymaking process that seems geared towards appeasing Big Content does not provide much in the way of legitimacy.
In the past week, 23 Republicans and 151 Democrats in the House of Representatives wrote letters to the Obama administration indicating their unwillingness to comply with the Executive's request for power to fast-track trade agreements through Congress. Fast-track authority, also known as Trade Promotion Authority, limits congressional approval over trade agreements to a yes or no, up or down vote. If a bill granting fast-track were to pass, hearings would become extremely limited, and lawmakers would have no ability to make amendments. It would give the Obama administration unchecked power to shape TPP and other agreements like the EU-U.S. trade deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP).
There are some Congress members who are actively pushing for fast-track and are vowing to introduce legislation to enact it by 2014. Thankfully, these letters from the House show the White House is going to have difficulty in finding support in Congress to pass such a bill. Still, the Obama administration is going to push hard for the passage of fast-track. The U.S. trade office is negotiating TPP as if it already has fast-track authority, by deciding for itself which countries to negotiate with and what issues are on the table.
Without fast-track, it's inconceivable that the TPP would survive congressional debate. And that's the point of all of this secrecy: the TPP's myriad harmful provisions for users wouldn't survive the sunlight of transparency, so it's being negotiated in the dark. And since negotiators only get to hear corporations' concerns while drafting these policies, it only makes sense that its agenda would exclude users' interests.
So we need to demand that our lawmakers oppose fast-track. Let's ask them to call for a hearing and exercise their authority to oversee the U.S. trade office’s secret copyright agenda.