The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has pressed for secret copyright provisions to be inserted into international law at the behest of Hollywood and other content industry interests.
Using trade negotiations to manipulate intellectual property laws must stop. ACTA and TPP are just the tip of the iceberg. The USTR has negotiated dozens of agreements and official publications with no true public consultation, upholding the one-sided concerns of Big Media and its allies. The U.S. copyright system is broken, yet we are exporting and reinforcing this broken system through these misguided treaties.
Urge USTR nominee Michael Froman to end backdoor negotiations and keep secretive corporate trade agreements from regulating the Internet!
In the US and around the world, we are seeing how copyright enforcement has led to drastic unintended consequences for the Internet. Legitimate websites have been shut down, devices have been locked up or banned, and users have been disconnected, criminalized, and slammed with thousands of dollars in fines. Valuable innovation and creative works are caged up (or never happen) because of copyright rules that are put in place through the force of a few Big Media industries.
The White House has announced Michael Froman as their nominee to be the new USTR, and within the coming month, the Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing to confirm his candidacy. The letter requests Michael Froman to commit to a list of guidelines to both ensure the USTR will become procedurally transparent and to get “intellectual property” issues out of these types of agreements.
These guidelines are long overdue. Trade agreements continue to be negotiated in secret under strong corporate influence. Trade delegates make crucial policy decisions that impact the lives of millions of people, but civil society groups have no opportunity to weigh in on behalf of those affected. The USTR has claimed over and over that their so-called “stakeholder briefings” and “engagement” events are sufficient to ensure transparency in these processes. As last year's protests against ACTA abundantly demonstrated, the USTR is wrong.
But the problems don’t stop there. After a trade agreement is concluded and signatory nations have signed and ratified it, those countries must comply with its terms. When the agreement involves intellectual property, it limits severely legislators’ ability to design innovation policy that best suits the needs of their country. Instead of allowing countries to adapt to new circumstances, trade agreements carve a highly restrictive regime into stone. In effect, the USTR threatens to become the final arbiter of intellectual property policy.
These tainted processes must be stopped if we are to ever work towards creating copyright regimes that balance the needs of creators and users. Sign this petition today to usher in a new era of transparency for the US Trade Representative.
Congratulations on your nomination to be U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).
We are state representatives, civil society groups, academics, and members of the public with serious concerns about the substantive policies and non-transparent operations of the Office of the United States Trade Representative. We are writing to seek your commitment to address these concerns.
Contrary to the Obama administration’s stated commitment to promoting government transparency, the approach taken by the Office of the USTR’s with respect to the negotiation of free trade agreements has been characterized by unprecedented secrecy. Legislators, civil society organizations and the public have been denied access to key information and texts, particularly regarding intellectual property or Internet-related proposals. For example, none of the recent stakeholder events or briefings around the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) have revealed anything substantive about U.S. objectives around intellectual property enforcement, nor have the USTR’s consultations with Congressional members been adequate to allow their meaningful input on these critical policy areas.
The USTR has already committed, in the words of its own open government plan, to “introducing new concepts – including increasing transparency and promoting broader participation” to its work. But in some areas, it has gone backward. In 2001, for example, the USTR along with the 33 other countries involved officially published the working draft of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The USTR at the time, Robert B. Zoellick, called the publication of the FTAA draft text an "unprecedented effort to make international trade and its economic and social benefits more understandable to the public." The American public benefited from this opportunity to know what issues were on the table. Legislators, civil society groups, academics, and the public could examine, analyze, and propose alternative language.
By contrast, negotiations for the recent Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) were conducted largely in secret. Only the well-funded special interest lobbyists from incumbent industries appointed to official U.S. trade advisory committees or similar bodies in other countries were granted access to ACTA drafts and consulted over its intellectual property and Internet provisions. The result was an unbalanced agreement that generated widespread protests and criticism, ultimately leading Europe to reject it. A transparent and genuinely participatory negotiation process might have led to a different result.
Conducting negotiations transparently and with meaningful opportunities for a wider range of stakeholders is particularly critical with respect to expansive “trade” agreements, such as TPP and the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA). Of course, the public expects and deserves trade policymaking to be conducted with the accountability that is the cornerstone of democratic governance. Moreover, the Office of the USTR should not waste its limited resources on years of negotiations that will produce an agreement that, due to public backlash, will never be widely adopted.
Therefore, as a matter of principle and practicality, we request that you commit to the following guideposts for future trade negotiations:
FIRST, publish the working draft texts of trade agreements after each round of negotiations. Representatives of foreign governments have a chance to review proposed rules to which the United States, future Congresses and state legislatures and all of us in our daily lives may be indefinitely bound - the American public, Congress, and state legislatures deserve no less;
SECOND, publish the reports on U.S. positions and proposals that are currently given only to Industry Trade Advisory Committee members under confidentiality agreements. Congress and the public must have that information if we are to ensure that USTR’s proposals represent all of us, not only industry interests;
THIRD, formulate U.S. positions to be taken to trade agreement negotiations via on-the-record notice and comment rulemaking under the Administrative Procedures Act, which requires an explanation for which views have and have not been included in a proposed policy;
FOURTH, open Trade Advisory Committee briefings and processes to the public so that all who will live with the results of trade agreement policymaking have the same opportunity to participate in the process and have access to USTR negotiators;
FIFTH, commit that if the above steps are not taken, Intellectual Property Rights provisions will not be included in U.S. trade agreements.
These guideposts will go along way to ensure that policymaking in the trade context adheres to fundamental democratic precepts. We strongly urge you to adopt them.
Thank you for your attention.