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In Advance of NAFTA Renegotiations, Dingell Introduces Legislation to Promote Transparency in Trade

For too long, U.S. trade agreements have been negotiated behind closed doors without input from the public. The Trump Administration’s vague objectives for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) released this week indicate that these negotiations will be no different. In response, U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (MI-12) today introduced legislation to bring more transparency to trade talks. The Promoting Transparency in Trade Act would require the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to publically release the text of trade deals prior to each negotiating round, publish the considered text at the conclusion of each round, and ensure the position of USTR Transparency Officer is free from conflicts of interest.

“The American people deserve to have a voice in trade agreements being negotiated on their behalf,” said Dingell. “Last year, the Transpacific Partnership failed to move forward because the American people were concerned about its potential impact on American jobs and made clear that they are tired of trade deals being negotiated in secret without input from the public. We now have an opportunity to renegotiate NAFTA in a way that puts working families first. The Promoting Transparency in Trade Act will bring clarity to the process, which is currently off limits to the American people, and ensure the public – not just corporations and special interests – have a seat at the table on policies that impact their lives and economic well-being.”

“Public Citizen applauds Representative Dingell for introducing the Promoting Transparency in Trade Act,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “For too long, U.S. trade deals have been crafted behind closed doors without public scrutiny. While the public and Congress have been shut out, 500 mostly corporate official U.S. trade advisors have had access to the texts. This secrecy has allowed corporate interests to hijack the trade negotiation process with disastrous results for workers, consumers and the environment. If the Trump administration intends to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement to stop its ongoing damage and make it better for working people, as candidate Trump pledged, it must follow the transparency reforms in this bill.”

"The need for adopting transparency principles for trade has only grown more urgent,” said Alexander B. Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation. “The legitimacy of any eventual trade agreements will be improved by informing the American people more about the positions our government is taking on our behalf, rebuilding eroded trust in a process that has been characterized by secrecy and leaks. We hope the 115th Congress sees the wisdom of taking proactive steps to open trade negotiations to the public by passing the Promoting Transparency in Trade Act."

“The increasing importance of digital products and services to our economy means the rules being negotiated in trade agreements affect a more diverse group of stakeholders than ever before,” said Jeremy Malcolm, senior global policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). "The current system of negotiating these agreements has failed to reflect that change, and the result has been bad rules, and a loss of public trust in the process. This bill will help to fix that problem by opening up such deals to greater public oversight, and I thank Congresswoman Dingell for introducing it.”

The Promoting Transparency in Trade Act would require the USTR to publish text before and after each round of trade deal negotiations on a public website so all interested parties can see the process unfolding step by step. It would also require that USTR appoint a Transparency Officer who does not have, or appear to have, any conflict of interest in ensuring the transparency of the activities of the Office of the Trade Representative. Previously, the position has been held by the administration’s General Counsel – which is hardly an unbiased person working in the interests of transparency.

In addition to Dingell, the bill is cosponsored by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (CT-03), Tim Ryan (OH-13), Marcy Kaptur (OH-09), Rick Nolan (MN-08), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Keith Ellison (MN-05), Raul Grijalva (AZ-03), John Conyers (MI-13), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Louise Slaughter (NY-25), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Dan Lipinksi (IL-03), Chelli Pingree (ME-01), Brad Sherman (CA-30), Jim McGovern (MA-02), and Mark Pocan (WI-02).

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