We won't make the information public because if people knew what was going on, they would stop it.
That's been the government's argument for not releasing the basic trade negotiation documents. Let me explain:
Trade agreements are important. They affect everything -- our imports and exports, wages, jobs, the environment, financial services, and even the Internet.
But if people can't follow the basic outline of the negotiations, then they can't have any real input into the process.
Right now the U.S. Trade Representative is negotiating a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal with eleven countries, including Japan, Mexico, Canada, Singapore and Vietnam. For months, the Trade Representative has refused any public access to the Trans-Pacific Partnership's composite bracketed text – the language proposals being negotiated on by the United States and other countries.
I believe in transparency and democracy, and I think the U.S. Trade Representative should too. So I asked President Obama's nominee for U.S. Trade Representative, Michael Froman, three questions:
1. Would he commit to releasing the composite bracketed text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
2. If not, would he commit to releasing just a scrubbed version of the bracketed text that made anonymous which country proposed which provision? Even the Bush Administration put out the scrubbed version during negotiations around the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement.
3. Would he provide more transparency behind what information is made to the trade office's outside advisors? Currently, there are about 600 outside advisors that have access to sensitive information -- industry, labor, environmental groups and other NGO representatives. But there is no transparency around who gets what information and whether they all see 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. For that reason, I voted against Michael Froman's nomination as U.S. Trade Representative on Wednesday.
I have 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.
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 the future of the American economy.
Michael Froman was confirmed to his new position Wednesday night, but I'm not going to stop asking him the tough questions. We should have a serious conversation about our trade policies, because these issues matter. And it all starts with transparency from the U.S. Trade Representative.