Dingell bill would require transparency in trade talks

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Ahead of the administration’s planned renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell has reintroduced legislation aiming to make secretive trade talks more transparent.

The bill from the Dearborn Democrat aims to make the process of negotiating trade deals less secretive, in part by requiring the publication of the text of a proposed deal after each round of negotiations. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has indicated that talks to renegotiate NAFTA will begin Aug. 16.

The legislation also would require that the U.S. trade representative appoint a transparency officer who is free of conflicts of interest. The position has previously been held by the trade representative’s general counsel — a position that Dingell says is “hardly unbiased.”

“The American people deserve to have a voice in trade agreements being negotiated on their behalf,” Dingell said in a statement, noting that last year’s Trans-Pacific Partnership didn’t get approved by Congress because of concerns over its potential impact on American jobs.

“We now have an opportunity to renegotiate NAFTA in a way that puts working families first. The Promoting Transparency in Trade Act will bring clarity to the process, which is currently off limits to the American people, and ensure the public — not just corporations and special interests — have a seat at the table on policies that impact their lives and economic well-being.”

Trade negotiations have traditionally occurred behind closed doors, with negotiators saying the secrecy is needed to build trust among the parties negotiating. One concern is that other countries would not put their best proposals on the table if disclosed.

Alexander B. Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation, echoed the need for greater transparency in trade.

“The legitimacy of any eventual trade agreements will be improved by informing the American people more about the positions our government is taking on our behalf, rebuilding eroded trust in a process that has been characterized by secrecy and leaks,” Howard said.