[A2k] Mark Wu (Harvard Law School) in the FT: US should not negotiate free trade behind closed doors
thiru at keionline.org
Wed May 27 00:22:28 PDT 2015
May 26, 2015 6:23 pm
US should not negotiate free trade behind closed doors
The advisory system fuels fears that TPP will benefit corporate interests,
writes Mark Wu
Many Americans who think free trade can be good for them nevertheless doubt
whether the same can be said for the international trade agreements that
are actually being written, often in conditions of secrecy.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement that the US is negotiating with
11 Pacific Rim countries, is a case in point. Beyond the few paragraphs on
the White House website, most Americans have little idea what it contains.
Even members of Congress have to go to a secure room in the basement to
read the latest negotiating text.
The White House argues that a period of secrecy is necessary, to afford
negotiators flexibility to cut deals. Once we have an agreement, officials
say, there will be plenty of time for the public to debate its merits — and
Congress can reject it. Yet sceptics are not convinced; last week
Democratic lawmakers tried to prevent the Senate from so much as discussing
a law that would give President Barack Obama broad authority to negotiate a
It does not help that some Americans have greater insight into what is
happening than others. The US trade representative consults with about 700
people while negotiations are in progress; most are from the private
sector. This advisory system fuels fears that trade deals benefit corporate
interests at the expense of ordinary Americans.
As a former trade negotiator, I know that so-called trade promotion
authority and some degree of secrecy is vital for getting a deal done. But
the current level of secrecy may be going too far. Instead of dismissing
critics as misguided, the White House should strike a better balance
between retaining flexibility for negotiators and keeping the public
informed during the process.
Here are three proposals — developed with my colleague John Stubbs, a
former senior adviser to the USTR — that would help restore this balance.
First, the administration should provide better accounts of US negotiating
objectives. The EU does this already, publishing a two-page summary of its
aims for each chapter of a trade deal, and sometimes releases its own
negotiation proposals. By contrast, the USTR publishes only a terse
paragraph for each chapter. It should be more forthcoming.
Second, the government should release information about proposals under
consideration, provided our negotiating counterparts agree. It should
solicit public comments on contentious proposals (there is no need to say
which government put forward which proposal). This provides a mechanism to
seek input from the broader public, rather than just select advisory group
Finally, government reports of the economic benefits and losses associated
with trade deals depend heavily on economic models. While the final reports
of government economists are made public, the data and assumptions
underlying these models often are not. Why not make that information
available as well? Outside experts can re-run the model to show how the
economic effects change under different conditions.
None of these proposals would hamper the ability of trade negotiators to do
their jobs. Yet all three can help erase worries that the government is
hiding something, and restore trust that deals are being negotiated in the
broader public interest.
Outdated trade rules need to be revised. But America’s process for
formulating trade policy is outdated, too. Citizens should be able to make
informed decisions over whether a deal allows Americans to share broadly in
the gains from trade. Supporters of trade deals need to realise that they
too need to support greater transparency, if they are to rebuild a broader
coalition in favour of trade.
The writer is an assistant professor at Harvard Law School
Bio of Mark Wu from Harvard Law website: "Mark Wu is an Assistant Professor
of Law at Harvard Law School, where he teaches international trade and
international economic law. Previously, he served as the Director for
Intellectual Property in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative where
he was the lead U.S. negotiator for the IP chapters of several free trade
agreements. He also worked as an engagement manager for McKinsey & Co.
where he focused on high-tech companies. He began his career as an
economist and operations officer for the World Bank in China, working on
environmental, urban development, health, and rural poverty issues. He has
also served as an economist for the United Nations Development Programme in
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