WASHINGTON -- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Thursday sent a letter to President Barack Obama's nominee to head U.S. trade negotiations, expressing concerns about the administration's lack of transparency in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major trade deal being negotiated largely in secret.
Labor unions, public health advocates and environmental groups have long decried so-called free trade policies for undermining important regulations in the pursuit of corporate profits. The letter signals that Warren's tough stance on bank regulation extends to other major consumer and public interest matters.
What the public does know about the TPP has been learned through leaked documents. According to those documents, the Obama administration is seeking to grant corporations the ability to directly challenge regulations in countries involved in the talks -- a political power that was typically reserved for sovereign nations until the 1990s. Obama opposed such policies as a presidential candidate in 2008. The leaked intellectual property chapter of the deal includes provisions that would increase the costs of life-saving medicines in poor countries.
Warren's letter does not take issue with specific terms of the negotiations, but rather the secrecy surrounding the process. Members of Congress have been allowed to see TPP negotiation texts. Some have said they were insulted by the complex administrative procedures the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, or USTR, imposed to actually access the texts -- barriers not imposed on unelected corporate advisers.
Members of official "Trade Advisory Committees" stacked with corporate officials have been given access to the texts. But on June 6, Labor Advisory Committee Chairman R. Thomas Buffenbarger wrote a letter to acting U.S. Trade Representative Miriam Sapiro objecting to the "severe restrictions" that her agency had placed on information available to advocates for working people.
In her letter, Warren asked current White House official Michael Froman, who Obama has nominated to be the next head of USTR, whether he would make a copy of the negotiation text available to the public. She also asked for a full accounting of all information that has been made available to each official advisory committee.
The Obama administration has been negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership for several years, and Obama said at his 2013 State of the Union address that he hopes to have the deal approved by the end of the year.
Read the full text of Warren's letter here.