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U.S. Court of Appeals Hears Government Secrecy Case

U.S. trade agency continued secrecy denies public access to document related to protection of environment and public health

WASHINGTON - On behalf of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), Earthjustice argued to defend a court order requiring the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to disclose a document shared with foreign governments during negotiations to establish a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

The FTAA would have extended NAFTA-type rules throughout the Western Hemisphere. The document contains the U.S. interpretation of terms that would determine the extent of government’s ability to prevent threats to human health and the environment.

CIEL sought to make the document public in a case under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, but USTR refused to release it. Although the terms of international trade agreements like the FTAA affect the ability of the United States to protect public health and the environment, USTR’s refusal prevented the public from having a voice in how much power the United States should surrender in the negotiations.

“As the U.S. heads into the final months of intense negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and launches new talks on a potential Trans-Atlantic trade deal, the principles underlying this case take on a new relevance and new urgency," said CIEL President Carroll Muffett. “The American people deserve an open and informed debate about U.S. negotiating positions that have consequences for our rights, our communities and our environment.”

Earthjustice has represented CIEL in suing to gain access to the document. The U.S. district court gave USTR three tries to justify classifying the document. In February 2012, after USTR’s third failed attempt, the judge ordered USTR to release the document. USTR has appealed that ruling.

“Transparency and public participation are hallmarks of democracy. If citizens are kept in the dark until negotiations are completed, they will never be able to provide useful advice concerning rules that would directly affect their lives and health,” said Earthjustice attorney and director of international programs Martin Wagner. “This case is about giving people a role in the laws that govern their lives.”


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Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.

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