I rise today to talk about trade agreements and the impact they have on our economy. Trade agreements affect access to foreign markets and our level of imports and exports. They also affect a wide variety of public policy issues - everything from wages, jobs, the environment, and the Internet -- to monetary policy, pharmaceuticals, and financial services.
Many people are deeply interested in tracking the trajectory of trade negotiations, but if they do not have reasonable access to see the terms of the agreements under negotiation, then they can't have real input. Without transparency, the benefits from an open marketplaces of ideas are reduced enormously.
I am deeply concerned about the transparency record of the US Trade Representative and with one ongoing trade agreement in particular -- the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
For months, the Trade Representative who negotiates on our behalf has been unwilling to provide any public access to the composite bracketed text relating to the negotiations. The composite bracketed text includes proposed language from the United States and also other countries, and it serves as the focal point for negotiations. The Trade Representative has allowed Members of Congress to access the text, and I appreciate that. But that is no substitute for public transparency.
I’ve heard the argument that transparency would undermine the Trade Representative's policy to complete the trade agreement because public opposition would be significant. In other words, if people knew what was going on, they would stop it. This argument is exactly backwards. If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.
I believe in transparency and democracy, and I think the U.S. Trade Representatives should too.
I asked the President's nominee to be Trade Representative -- Michael Froman - three questions: First, would he commit to releasing the composite bracketed text? Or second, if not, would he commit to releasing just a scrubbed version of the bracketed text that made anonymous which country proposed which provision. (Note: Even the Bush Administration put out the scrubbed version during negotiations around the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement.)
Third, I asked Mr. Froman if he would provide more transparency behind what information is made available to outside advisors. Currently, there are about 600 outside advisors that have access to sensitive information, and the roster includes a wide diversity of industry representatives and some from labor and some from NGO’s. But there is no transparency around who gets what information or whether they’re all getting the same things, and I think that's a real problem. Mr. Froman's response was clear: No, no, no. He will not commit to make this information available so the public can track what is going on.
I am voting against Mr. Froman's nomination later today because I believe we need a new direction from the Trade Representative -- A direction that prioritizes transparency and public debate. The American people have the right to know more about the negotiations that will have dramatic impact on our working men and women, on the environment, on our economy, on the Internet.
We should have a serious conversation about our trade policies, because these issues matter. But it all starts with transparency of the U.S. Trade Representative.
Thank you, Mr. President.