Today, President Trump signed an executive order fulfilling his campaign promise to withdraw the signature of the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP). Although EFF was a strong opponent of the TPP, President Trump's reasons for withdrawal from the agreement are not EFF's reasons for opposition to it. Whereas the President contended in his inauguration address that previous U.S. trade policies had "enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry," he had nothing to say about EFF's concerns such as the secrecy with which the pact was concluded, and its impacts on digital rights.
This means that the President's withdrawal from the TPP may not have achieved a long-lasting victory on those underlying issues. In other words, when future trade deals led by the Trump administration come up—such as a revision of NAFTA, and new bilateral agreements—they may be just as secretive, and equally harmful to Internet users' rights, as the TPP.
Ten days ago EFF held a roundtable on trade transparency to try to avert that outcome, by gathering experts from across government and civil society to make the case for a new, more transparent and inclusive approach to trade negotiations. Today, we are publicly releasing the text of five simple recommendations that came out of that meeting:
On January 13, 2017 we the undersigned participants at a Trade Transparency Roundtable presented the following recommendations to the United States Trade Representative (USTR) for the reform of its current trade negotiation practices, which we observe as lacking in public transparency and openness.
1. Publish U.S. textual proposals on rules in ongoing international trade negotiations
USTR should immediately make available on its website the textual proposals related to rules that it has already tabled to its negotiating partners in the context of the TTIP, TiSA, and any other bilateral, regional, or multilateral trade and investment negotiations it undertakes.
2. Publish consolidated texts after each round of ongoing negotiations
USTR should impose as a prerequisite to any new or continuing trade negotiations that all parties agree to publish consolidated draft texts on rules after each negotiating round, including negotiations conducted on the entire agreement or a specific element or chapter and among trade ministers or other officials of every party to such negotiations or of a subgroup of the parties to such negotiations.
3. Appoint a "transparency officer" who does not have structural conflicts of interest in promoting transparency at the agency
USTR should immediately appoint a transparency officer who does not have any structural conflicts of interest in promoting transparency at the agency.
4. Open up textual proposals to a notice and comment and public hearing process
USTR should initiate on-the-record public notice and comment and public hearing processes—at least equivalent to that normally required for other public rulemaking processes—at relevant points during the generation of government positions.
5. Make Trade Advisory Committees more broadly inclusive
If proposed U.S. texts and draft texts from negotiations are made publicly available, the main official advantage of the Trade Advisory Committee system – access to that information – would disappear. However, if Trade Advisory Committees are to be retained in addition to public notice and comment and public hearing processes, then resources must be devoted to making membership and effective participation in these committees more accessible to all affected stakeholder groups, including non-industry groups.
We submit these recommendations in the firm belief that that such reforms will be essential in enabling the successful conclusion of future trade agreements, particularly those that contain provisions relating to the digital and online environment.
These five recommendations have also been endorsed by the Sunlight Foundation, the Association of Research Libraries, and OpenTheGovernment.org, and we will be updating this post with further organizational endorsements as we receive them.
The President also stated in his inauguration speech last week that henceforth "every decision on trade…will be made to benefit American workers and American families." If that is so, then one such decision should be to ensure that these American workers and families have access to the text of the proposed trade rules that will affect their lives, and that there is a better way of ensuring that their opinions, rather than just those of industry lobbyists, are reflected in U.S. trade policy. Indeed, however U.S. trade rules may change going forward, better transparency in developing those rules makes sense for this and every future U.S. administration.
The five simple recommendations above are a good first start, and currently EFF's top priority on trade and your rights. We will be transmitting them to the United States Trade Representative and to other key offices within the administration, and following up throughout the year.
Update: This post was updated on January 24 to add OpenTheGovernment.org's endorsement.