130 congressional Democrats want open Internet regulation talks

Yesterday, 130 Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to United States Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk calling for more transparency in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement talks. TPP covers a range of issues, but it is the provisions concerning the Internet (and its regulation) and intellectual property that have brought the most criticism.

In the letter to Kirk, the congressional Democrats urged Kirk and his staff to “engage in broader and deeper consultations with members of the full range of committees of Congress whose jurisdiction touches on the wide-ranging issues involved, and to ensure there is ample opportunity for Congress to have input on critical policies that will have broad ramifications for years to come.”

The letter also notes that if TPP’s norms were established (in secret), then the U.S. “will be obliged to bring existing and future U.S. policies into compliance” and “create binding policies on future Congresses in numerous areas,” which would create an international Internet regulation infrastructure that the American people did not demand nor want.

“These could include those related to labor, patent and copyright, land use, food, agriculture and product standards, natural resources, the environment, professional licensing, state-owned enterprises and government procurement policies, as well as financial, healthcare, energy, telecommunications and other service sector regulations,” the letter reads.

And Kudos to the Democrats for stating that hundreds of corporate business interests have had access to the TPP negotiators and documents, while the American people and its elected representatives have not.

Under the trade advisory system, representatives from over 600 business interests have such access to both USTR negotiators and the negotiating text. However, American small business, civil society, and other interest who have a direct and long-term interest in the outcome of these negotiations have little meaningful input. In the past, most important U.S. trade agreement texts have not been made available until after they were signed and changes were all but impossible. If Congress and the public are not informed of the exact terms of the agreement until the conclusion of the process, then any opportunity for meaningful input is lost.

The congressional Democrats also asked for a copy of a 2010 confidentiality agreement “imposing heightened secrecy for the process” and “an explanation as to what role USTR or other governments played in crafting it.”

Yesterday, Rep. Daryl Issa (R-CA) also expressed his displeasure with TPP secretive process when he asked U.S. trade representatives to allow him to sit in on negotiations in San Diego next week with Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Chile, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei, according to Reuters.

“Given the immense impact that this agreement will have on many areas of the American economy, including intellectual property, I respectfully request that you allow me and certain members of my staff to be present as observers for this round of negotiations,” said Issa in a separate letter to Kirk.

Head over to Public Knowledge to download a copy of the congressional letter to Ambassador Kirk.