PHILADELPHIA — As Congress and the White House work on a trade agreement with Pacific countries, a key Democrat in the negotiations is criticizing the Obama administration for a lack of transparency — and more specifically, a lack of access to the actual text.
Ways and Means ranking Democrat Sander M. Levin told reporters assembled at a hotel conference room roundtable that the White House was not allowing members of Congress to know what is being offered by which countries in an emerging trade deal. "I should say it isn't broadly known," Levin said. "I may have more information."
Humblebrags aside, Levin emphasized the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is an emerging trade deal with 12 Pacific countries. "We need to get it right," the Michigan Democrat said. "And to get it right, we need to know what's in it."
Levin called the situation "a failure of access."
Levin said he and his Republican counterpart, Ways and Means Chairman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, told the administration it needs to "shape up on transparency."
"We need to join hands with this administration," he said. Levin seemed to consider that sentence. It didn't seem right. "They have to join hands with us," he clarified.
The TPP has been a major question in Congress. Democrats say they are open to giving the president the authority to sign the trade deal, but they have concerns. Specifically, Levin mentions provisions to increase agricultural exports to Pacific countries, access to Japan's auto market, the inclusion of currency manipulation safeguards in the trade deal, and enforceable worker and environmental standards — something which Levin said was the biggest problem with the North American Free Trade Agreement.
As for how much discussion has taken place here in Philadelphia over trade, Levin said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka talked about the TPP Wednesday night.
Asked what Trumka's message was, Levin summed it up as, "Don't vote to fast-track a package when you don't really know what's in it, and you don't have an assured role in shaping its outcome."
"I'm giving my view," Levin said. "It's mine, but, in a way, I think that was his message."
House Democrats are scheduled to hear from President Barack Obama later Thursday night, and trade will almost certainly come up. The president might also be smart to prepare for a question about access to the trade deal text.
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