January 16, 2014 | By Maira Sutton

The Questions That Should Have Been Asked at Today's Fast Track Hearing

The US Senate Committee on Finance held a hearing this morning on the new "fast track" bill that was introduced last week. The bill, formally called the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014 or TPA 2014 for short, would have Congress "fast track," or hand over its power over US trade policy, to the White House. In practice, this means elected representatives would have even less oversight, control, and authority over secretive agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

It also means that powerful moneyed lobbyists, like Hollywood Studios, could more easily insert their wish list of copyright enforcement provisions into these international deals. If passed, the bill would effectively eliminate substantive congressional review over these secret agreements and create a dangerous lack of accountability over a long list of policies that should really be written and passed transparently and democratically. Any international trade agreement should be given a full reading, investigation, and confirmation by the public's representatives in Congress.

In October, we joined over a dozen public interest groups in sending a letter to members of the Senate Finance Committee urging them not to grant the Obama administration fast track authority. We wrote:

Agreements such as the TPP require transparency and input from all affected stakeholders, and a fast track process would not permit Congress to provide that essential feedback. The stakes for user's rights are too high, and the process has been too secretive, to allow the administration to enact an agreement without meaningful Congressional oversight.

We hope they heed our call. Members of the Senate Committee on Finance had the opportunity to ask tough questions to the hearing's witnesses about the supposed benefits of fast track, but failed to do so. Instead, many of them used the time to tout the benefits of fast track authority without getting into any of its actual implications. Here are some questions the Senators should have asked:

  • Even as the US Trade Rep claims that TPA 2014 will heighten Congressional oversight during trade negotiations, how will it account for the fact that the TPP agreement has already had extremely limited involvement by Congress members? To see the text, they had to go to a specific room at the US Trade Rep and were not even permitted to take notes, make copies, or bring legislative aides. This hardly accounts as a proper consultation process as written in this bill. Won't their meager involvement in the process make the TPP itself non-compliant with the bill's own requirements to ensure that “Congress, stakeholders and the public are closely involved before, during and after the conclusion of trade agreement negotiations”?
  • How will you account for the fact that there are negotiating obligations written into this bill that may be used to justify policies that contradict the US Constitution? Notably, the obligation to provide “strong enforcement of intellectual property rights,” which may counteract our constitutional prerogative “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” Fair use, and the other tenets in US law, actively consider the interests of creators *and* users to further this objective. Such principles are nowhere to be seen in TPA 2014.

The main sponsors of the bill will be pushing hard to get this passed in the next few weeks. The US Trade Rep is especially in favor of this bill, and has even written a statement that is full of factual distortions about what fast track would do.

We need to maintain the pressure on our representatives to oppose this bill and keep their proper role over trade policy. Help us fight fast track. Join over 10,000 people in telling your Congress members to shelve TPA 2014. Share this action and tell your friends about why we need to stop TPP and all undemocratic trade agreements.


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