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Concerned about secrecy? Pass TPA.

May 06, 2015

Opponents of free trade agreements are raising a stink about transparency in trade negotiations. But the truth is, if they really want to shed light on the negotiations, the best thing they can do is pass trade promotion authority (TPA).

Our trading partners will make concessions and take down trade barriers to American products only if they trust that there will be discretion during the negotiations. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be effective congressional oversight and an informed public long before any vote in Congress.

That’s what TPA is all about. It’s without TPA that an administration could keep Congress and the American people in the dark.

That’s why trade promotion authority will codify in law—in some cases, for the first time ever—a number of transparency measures. That way, the American people will have all the information they need to make their own decision.

Most notably, TPA requires the president to make public the text of a trade agreement at least 60 days before he finalizes it. And at least 30 days before he submits an implementing bill to Congress, the president must send the final legal text of the agreement and a description of how he proposes to implement the agreement. So long before the agreement comes up for a vote, the American people will have plenty of time to read and debate it.

Here are the transparency measures TPA will put into law. Under TPA, every member of Congress will be able to:

  • Read Negotiating Text: Allows every member of Congress to read the negotiating text.
  • Receive Detailed Briefings: Requires the U.S. Trade Representative’s office to brief any interested member on the status of negotiations at any time.
  • Attend Negotiating Rounds: Allows any member to become a “congressional adviser” and as a result eligible to attend negotiating rounds.
  • Provide Guidance: Creates House and Senate Advisory Groups to oversee negotiations and receive regular briefings. Any member can submit views.
  • Coordinate with Public and Advisory Committees: Lays down guidelines on public engagement and sharing information with advisory committees.
  • Receive Adequate Time to Review deal: Requires the President to publish the text of a completed trade agreement 60 days before signing it.
  • Consult with a New Transparency Officer: Creates a chief transparency officer at USTR that will consult with Congress and advise USTR on transparency policies.

So, question: How can we make trade negotiations more transparent?

Answer: Pass TPA.