We Need to Stop the White House From Putting TPP and TTIP on the Fast Track To Ratification

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EFF.orgSen­a­tors are now work­ing around the clock to re-intro­duce a bill that would put trade agree­ments on the fast track to pas­sage in the US after those deals are final­ized. Deals like the Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Invest­ment Part­ner­ship (TTIP) have been nego­ti­at­ed in almost com­plete secre­cy, except for pri­vate indus­try advo­cates serv­ing on trade advi­so­ry com­mit­tees who can read and com­ment on these texts. That has enabled these agree­ments to include extreme copy­right and oth­er dig­i­tal pol­i­cy pro­vi­sions that would bind all sig­na­to­ry nations to dra­con­ian rules that would hin­der free speech, pri­va­cy, and access to knowl­edge. Under fast track, also referred to as Trade Pro­mo­tion Author­i­ty, law­mak­ers would only have a small win­dow of time to con­duct hear­ings over bind­ing trade pro­vi­sions and give an up-or-down vote on rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the agree­ment with­out any abil­i­ty to amend it before they bind the Unit­ed States to its terms.
fast-track-bigger-2One of the most sure-fire ways to block these secret trade agree­ments is to stop the pas­sage of fast track. We can­not let US law­mak­ers shirk their con­sti­tu­tion­al respon­si­bil­i­ty over trade pol­i­cy and let the White House and the US Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive pass Inter­net rules in back room meet­ings—which con­tin­ue to go on this very week. The TPP nego­ti­a­tions will like­ly remain com­plete­ly closed off from the pub­lic until the deal is final­ized. At that point, fast track would enable the US Trade Rep to get Con­gress to rat­i­fy the deal with­out law­mak­ers ques­tion­ing or mod­i­fy­ing it.

And while Europe is tak­ing rea­son­able steps to release more infor­ma­tion about TTIP, US trade offi­cials haven’t made a move. The US Trade Rep just released its lat­est fact sheet on trans­paren­cy, gross­ly exag­ger­at­ing the mea­ger steps it has tak­en to allow pub­lic inter­est groups like EFF engage in these nego­ti­a­tions. For instance, it touts the “stake­hold­er events” it has orga­nized, where civ­il soci­ety had an oppor­tu­ni­ty to meet and present to nego­tia­tors about our con­cerns with cer­tain pro­vi­sions. These events were bet­ter than noth­ing, but they were far from sufficient—not only were we only able to present about pro­vi­sions we had nev­er been allowed to see, we were giv­en very lit­tle time to present. More­over, they haven’t held stake­hold­er events at their nego­ti­a­tion rounds for more than a year now.

The US Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive is delud­ed enough to think that this process has already been trans­par­ent enough—and its views about the sub­stan­tive mer­its of the copy­right and patent poli­cies it is push­ing are sim­i­lar­ly nar­row and delu­sion­al. What will hap­pen if fast track pass­es and even Con­gress no longer has the abil­i­ty to hold hear­ings on the final text and keep these trade offi­cials in check?

Fast Track Politics on the Hill

The White House and sev­er­al Con­gress mem­bers are going to intro­duce a fast track bill in the com­ing weeks. Repub­li­cans seem to be more in favor of fast track than their Demo­c­ra­t­ic coun­ter­parts, which means Repub­li­can con­trol of both con­gres­sion­al cham­bers could mean the bill could sail straight through to approval. But there’s also crit­i­cism among some law­mak­ers and a large coali­tion of law­mak­ers who are com­mit­ted to fight it. Sen. Eliz­a­beth War­ren and Sen. Bernie Sanders have been vocal­ly opposed to hand­ing away such blan­ket pow­ers to the Exec­u­tive branch. And on the House side, Rep. Rosa DeLau­ro and oth­er rep­re­sen­ta­tives orga­nized a press event last week to announce their oppo­si­tion to fast track. But while there is a move­ment to stop TPP and TTIP from being put on the fast track, it’s still going to be a close vote. We can’t risk the pos­si­bil­i­ty that these deals could pass and bind our law­mak­ers to enact or main­tain new dra­con­ian copy­right rules. Law­mak­ers need to hear that users are vehe­ment­ly opposed to Inter­net reg­u­la­tions being decid­ed in secret trade negotiations.

How We Can Stop Fast Track

Sen. Ron Wyden now sits as the Rank­ing Mem­ber of the Sen­ate Finance Com­mit­tee, where he holds sig­nif­i­cant influ­ence on how this ver­sion of fast track will look. His col­league, Sen­ate Finance Com­mit­tee Chair Sen. Orrin Hatch, intro­duced the bill that was defeat­ed last year. Sen. Hatch is deter­mined to pass a new ver­sion with super­fi­cial fix­es that do noth­ing to address the secre­cy or the pri­vate-indus­try-dom­i­nat­ed process. That’s why we have a peti­tion direct­ed at Sen. Wyden, call­ing on him to resist these weak com­pro­mis­es and reject any ver­sion of this bill that does not tru­ly address these prob­lems. As a long-time defend­er of dig­i­tal rights and an out­spo­ken crit­ic of TPP’s secre­cy, we need to let him know that we’re count­ing on him to stand up for Inter­net users at this crit­i­cal time.

If and when the bill is on the floor, our next step is to pres­sure Con­gress mem­bers to oppose it and encour­age their col­leagues to vote against fast track. Many law­mak­ers may sup­port the pol­i­cy in order to not appear to oppose free trade, but these new omnibus trade agree­ments are about much more than that. They con­tain pro­vi­sions that will have huge impli­ca­tions for our dig­i­tal rights in the gen­er­a­tions to come. That’s why we’ll need to bom­bard them with mes­sages let­ting them know about these threats, and to call on them to defend users against secret deals.

Last year, a mas­sive coali­tion of civ­il soci­ety orga­ni­za­tions and indi­vid­u­als band­ed togeth­er to fight back against this unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic process and we defeat­ed it. We can do it again this year, but we’re going to need all the help we can get.