The back-room push for the corporate-friendly Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact may be backfiring on its supporters, as more and more lawmakers in U.S. Congress drop their interest in the deal over its extreme secrecy.
Only members of the House and Senate are currently allowed to view the text of the deal, and even they are forbidden from discussing what it contains. As a new report from Politico published Monday details, "If you’re a member who wants to read the text, you’ve got to go to a room in the basement of the Capitol Visitor Center and be handed it one section at a time, watched over as you read, and forced to hand over any notes you make before leaving."
As for the public, a few unauthorized leaks of the text have previewed a deal that would "dramatically expand the power of corporations to use closed-door tribunals to challenge—and supersede—domestic laws, including environmental, labor, and public health, and other protections."
The lack of transparency over the trade agenda has become a central argument for a growing number of opponents, who see the deal as a corporate power grab and "feel they are being treated with disrespect and condescension," as Politico's Edward-Isaac Dovere explains.
Among those critics is Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), who points out that "the cover sheets of the trade documents in that basement room are marked only 'confidential document' and note they’re able to be transmitted over unsecured email and fax—but for some reason are still restricted to members of Congress."
"We know when we're being suckered," Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Florida) told Politico on Monday. "It's not only condescending, it's misleading."
One of the most vocal opponents of the TPP is Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who, along with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), wrote a letter (pdf) to President Barack Obama last week demanding the public release of the deal's full text.
"The American people should be allowed to weigh in on the facts of the TPP before Members of Congress are asked to voluntarily reduce our ability to amend, shape, or block any trade deal," Warren and Brown wrote.
In March, Obama said TPP opponents were being "dishonest" in calling the agenda a "secret deal." But, as Huffington Post senior political economy reporter Zach Carter wrote last week, the Warren-Brown letter suggests "that Obama's trade transparency record is worse than that of former President George W. Bush. They note that Bush published the full negotiation texts of a major free trade deal with Latin America several months before Congress had to vote on giving the deal fast track benefits. The Obama administration has resisted calls to follow suit with TPP."
Warren and Brown conclude their letter:
We understand that people may disagree about the risks and benefits associated with a massive trade deal. We respectfully suggest that characterizing the assessments of labor unions, journalists, Members of Congress, and others who disagree with your approach to transparency on trade issues as "dishonest" is both untrue and unlikely to serve the best interests of the American people.
TPP critics are laying at least part of the blame on U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman, who is leading classified briefings on the pact with members of Congress. "The access to information is totally at the whim of Ambassador Froman," Doggett told Politico. "The more people hear Ambassador Froman but feel they get less than candid and accurate answers, I think it loses votes for them."