The Obama administration this week published its “transparency plan” as mandated by the “fast track” trade promotion authority law (Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015, “the Trade Priorities Act” or TPA) that was passed earlier this year.
The Guidelines for Trade Consultation and Engagement issued by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative were developed in coordination with the Congressional Committees on Finance and Ways and Means and reflect both practices already in place in addition to new ones called for by the Trade Priorities Act that are intended to bring more transparency and public scrutiny into the trade negotiating process.
The document clearly delineates the process of engagement between the administration and Congress in terms of consultations and briefings intended to enable:
- USTR, in conjunction with other relevant agencies, to convey detailed information about the status of pending and future negotiations, such as explanations of U.S. negotiating positions, how those positions reflect congressional negotiating objectives set out in the Trade Priorities Act, approaches to the negotiations and expectations for how the iterative process of negotiations might develop;
- Members of Congress to comment and provide input on U.S. negotiating positions and efforts to achieve negotiating objectives set out in the Trade Priorities Act;
- USTR to adjust U.S. negotiating positions and strategies, as appropriate, in light of congressional input; and
- USTR to provide detailed information to Congress about measures taken or to be taken by trading partners to comply with provisions of a trade agreement and for Members of Congress to share their views regarding those measures.
The new guidelines provide greater congressional access to the negotiating text of trade agreements by ensuring that not only members of Congress but some members of their staff can see the drafts as well. The new rules also formalize the requirement for the administration to provide public summaries of its negotiating positions and explain in more detail the role of USTR’s chief transparency offer, a position filled by Tim Reif, who also serves as chief counsel.
“These guidelines lay out a detailed set of policies and procedures to increase consultation and engagement with Congress, the public, and stakeholders,” Reif said in a statement. “Transparency drives up the quality of the public debate, which is important in the context of trade. We are currently working with our partner countries to finalize the text of the TPP agreement for public release.”