The new U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, took office this week. EFF has written him a letter to let him know that we’ll be holding him to the commitments that he made during his confirmation hearing about improving the transparency and inclusiveness of the USTR’s notoriously closed and opaque trade negotiation practices. Our letter, which you can download in full below, reads in part:
The American people’s dissatisfaction with trade deals of the past, such as NAFTA, does not merely lie in their effects on the American manufacturing sector and its workers. Another of the key mistakes of previous U.S. trade policy, we respectfully submit, has been the closed and opaque character of trade negotiations. …
Absent meaningful reforms that allow the public to see what is being negotiated on their behalf, and to participate in developing trade policy proposals, the public will reject new agreements just as they rejected failed agreements of the past, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
Conversely, given a real voice in trade policy development, there is the potential for trade agreements of the future to become more inclusive, better informed, and more popular—all of which are essential if America is to retain and strengthen its global economic leadership in the digital age.
Tech industry groups the Internet Association, [PDF] the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and the Internet Infrastructure Coalition (i2Coalition) [PDF], have also sent letters to the new USTR. In addition to addressing how America’s future trade agreements should address tech policy issues, the CCIA and i2Coalition letter addresses the need for greater transparency in trade negotiations, stating “we encourage you to maintain as much transparency in trade negotiations as is reasonably possible. More open negotiation processes will contribute to increased support for the trade agenda.”
House and Senate Democrats have reportedly delivered the same message [paywalled] to Ambassador Lighthizer during his first week in office, urging that the renegotiation of NAFTA—which officially launched today—be made more transparent than the negotiations of its failed predecessor, the TPP.
To further reinforce this message, EFF has gone even further—taking out a paid advertisement in POLITICO magazine’s Morning Trade newsletter which runs all this week. It directs to a new page of EFF’s website that is specifically targetted at D.C.’s trade community. You can see a copy of the banner graphic that we’ve used for that campaign to the side.
Will any of this make a difference? We certainly hope so, but we’re not counting on it. That’s why in case Ambassador Lighthizer fails to heed our message, we’ll also be supporting new legislation to be introduced in Congress to force the USTR to implement the necessary reforms. One way or another, the long overdue reform of trade negotiation processes has to happen, and we’re committed to seeing it through.