Coalition Letter to the U.S.T.R.

January 13, 2004

Coalition letter seeking enhanced access to draft texts of bilateral and regional trade agreements under negotiation.

January 13, 2004

Honorable Robert B. Zoellick
United States Trade Representative
Room 209A
600 17th Street, NW

Washington, DC 20508

            Subject:  Enhanced
Access to Information and Ability to Participate Effectively

Dear Ambassador Zoellick:

            Earlier
this fall organizations from a number of countries around the globe met to
create a network dedicated to promoting access to information and open, transparent
government.  September 28 marked the first international Right to Know
Day, symbolizing the global movement toward increasing the public's right
to information.

            Around
the world, nations are embracing open government as a way of improving government
accountability, encouraging public participation in governmental and democratic
decision-making, combating corruption, instilling public confidence in governmental
institutions, and facilitating open markets.  In over 50 countries,
citizens now have legal rights to gain access to government information.  Over
half of these countries have adopted freedom of information laws in the last
decade, and seven have done so in the last year.  The Turkish Parliament
is the latest to enact a Right to Information Law in October 2003, and that
same month the Shanghai Municipal Government in China posted for notice and
comment on its website a draft Open Government Information regulation applicable
to municipal governmental entities.

            The United
States has, of course, been a leader in these global developments.  Our
Freedom of Information Act stands as a model legislative statement providing
the public with judicially enforceable rights to government information subject
only to narrowly construed exemptions.  In recent years, the U.S. government
has also been at the forefront of promoting transparency around the world.  Both
the Departments of State and Commerce have participated in and supported
efforts to develop open government laws in countries ranging from Latin America
to Eastern Europe.  Only last month our government sponsored and participated
in a program in Rabat, Morocco, on Regulatory Transparency, as part of the
Commerce Department's provision of technical assistance related to the Free
Trade Agreement now being negotiated between the U.S. and Morocco. 

            It is
against this backdrop that we join to support the American Library Association,
the Association of Research Libraries, the American Association of Law Libraries,
and the Special Libraries Association in urging that, for all bilateral and
regional trade negotiations, the Office of the United States Trade Representative Ð

  • At least 30 days prior to the conclusion of the negotiation
    phase, post on USTR's website the proposed agreement text and request through
    the Federal Register public comment upon it; and
  • Post on the USTR website all comments received in
    electronic format and a listing of all comments received, updated promptly
    as new comments arrive.
  • Post on the USTR website
    the text of United States negotiating proposals and any accompanying documents
    at the time they are submitted to other countries in the course of negotiations.

            We are
aware that USTR endeavors to take into consideration the diverse views of
those who are interested in trade negotiations.  In the past your Office
has maintained an open door for stakeholders to express their views on actions
that might affect domestic policies and programs, and solicitations for public
comments have been made through Federal Register postings prior to
the initiation of trade negotiations.  Nonetheless, as a general matter
the proposed texts of agreements have not been routinely made available to
the public, though they have been shared on an ad hoc basis with interested
parties.  This not only deprives others of the advantage of access to
the principal documents, but also creates the potential for appearance of
favoritism or even bias in the process.

            Clearly
the issues addressed in trade negotiations are expanding and already touch
a broad array of programs, policies, laws, and private conduct in the United
States.  Often groups and individuals whose interests may be affected
are not knowledgeable of the intricacies of trade law, do not closely follow
trade negotiating activities, and do not have the resources to become and
remain insiders in the process.  The best way to provide comfort and
assurance to these groups and their constituencies is through providing a
more transparent process at the Office of the USTR.

            To the
extent that the countries with whom we are negotiating might object to public
disclosure, this obstacle to transparency can be avoided by establishing
as a condition to U.S. entry into negotiations that negotiating governments
agree in advance to USTR's timely publication of draft texts for public comment.
We should also, in the process, be encouraging those governments to adopt
on their own similar procedures for conveying information to and obtaining
the views of their affected stakeholders.  This will ensure that the
end result of any negotiation will be more acceptable to those affected in
all participating countries.

            Congress
has made clear in e-government legislation that it values and supports agency
use of websites and electronic notices for getting information out to the
public more efficiently and for encouraging public input into decision-making.  And
this administration's "firstgov.com" initiative is intended to make accessing
government electronic information more user-friendly.  USTR can play
an important role in advancing this trend by adopting the recommendations
we are supporting. 

Yours truly,

California First Amendment Coalition
Contact: Kent Pollock, Executive Director
2701 Cottage Way
Sacramento, California 95825

Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)
Contact: Daniel Magraw, Executive Director
1367 Connecticut Avenue, NW Suite #300

Washington, DC 20036

Defenders of Wildlife
Contact: Carroll Muffett, Director of International Programs
1130 17th Street N.W.
Washington, D. C. 20036

J. Michael Donnelly, Information Research Specialist

Congressional Research Service
Library of Congress
101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20540-7500

Earthjustice
Contact:  Martin Wagner, Director

426 17th Street, 6th Floor

Oakland, CA 94612-2820

Electronic Frontier Foundation
Contact: Gwen Hinze, Staff Attorney
454 Shotwell Street
San Francisco, California 94110

Federation of American Scientists

Contact: Steven Aftergood, Project Director
1717 K Street, N.W., Suite 209
Washington, D.C. 20036

Friends of the Earth-US
Contact: David Waskow, Trade Policy Coordinator
1717 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Suite 600

Washington, D.C. 20036

Government Accountability Project
Contact: Tom Devine, Legal Director
1612 K Street, N.W., Suite 1100
Washington, D. C. 20006

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)
Contact: Steve Suppan, Director of Research

2105 First Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN  55404

Knowledge Management Consulting
Contact: Susan Doran, Principal
1301 20th Street N.W., Suite 607

Washington, D.C. 20036

Natural Resources Defense Council
Contact: Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, Senior Attorney, International Program
1200 New York Ave, N.W., Suite 400
Washington, D.C. 20005

New Mexico Foundation for Open Government
Contact: Robert H. Johnson, Executive Director

P.O. Box 92197
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87199

Pesticide Action Network North America Regional
Center (PANNA)
Contact: Monica Moore, Program Director
49 Powell Street, Suite 500
San Francisco, CA 94102

Public Knowledge

Contact: Nathan Mitchler, Director, Global Knowledge Initiative
1875 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 650
Washington, D.C. 20009

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Contact: Lucy Dalglish, Executive Director
1815 North Fort Myer Drive, Suite 900

Arlington, VA 22209

Sierra Club Human Rights and Responsible Trade Program
Contact: James Mays, Chair
2545 County Rt. 3,
Olive Bridge, NY 12461

Society of Professional Journalists
Contact: Gordon McKerral, President

Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center
3909 N. Meridian St.
Indianapolis, IN  46208

Working Group on Community Right-to-Know
Contact: Paul Orum, Director
218 D Street, S.E.

Washington, D. C. 20003

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