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Polis and Massie Call for Transparency in US trade agreements

Letter to Trade Ambassador requests a balanced approach to U.S. intellectual property framework

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Washington, Dec 12, 2013 | comments

Today, Representatives Jared Polis (D-CO) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman requesting for transparency, particularly with respect to the intellectual property rights chapters, as the final rounds of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) are negotiated. The Congressmen also called for increase public engagement in the TPP negotiations with a range of diverse stakeholders to ensure that the final agreement maintains a balanced intellectual property system.

"We must ensure our trade policy is transparent and balanced," said Representative Polis. "Ensuring a balanced IP chapter will promote a thriving digital economy that is in everyone's interest- from content creators, to users and intermediaries. As digital trade expands, Congress and the Administration must work together to get the policy right. If we properly design our digital-trade policy system, we can positively develop the global economy for decades to come."

Polis and Massie expressed concern that important stakeholders including civil society groups, businesses, and academics have not been able to participate meaningfully in the treaty process, which is resulting in an imbalanced intellectual property system. In particular, they note that the TPP Intellectual Property Rights chapter leaked in November 2013 would place undue restrictions on our copyright laws, harming our innovation, our economy, and an open and free Internet. For instance, the leaked treaty draft includes language that would seemingly make any permanent fix to unlocking cellphones illegal.

To that end, Representatives Polis and Massie encourage the Administration to work with the negotiating parties to publicly release the current official text of the TPP intellectual property and related chapters—or at least summaries of these proposals—and invite public comments on such provisions before the agreement is concluded.

Congressman Polis has also been an outspoken critic of the lack of transparency surrounding the intellectual property provisions contained in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the impact these provisions have on a free and open Internet. Last September, he joined with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) calling on the U.S. Trade Representative in a letter to publicly release "detailed information" about the intellectual property provisions, which are of particular importance to the public, currently being negotiated in the TPP. And this past August, he and Congressman Massie led a bipartisan letter to Representative Froman on the issue.

The text of the letter follows.

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December 12, 2013

The Honorable Michael Froman
United States Trade Representative
600 17th Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20508

Dear Ambassador Froman,

We write as supporters of trade and strong believers in a transparent and open government. As the final rounds of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) agreement are negotiated, we urge you to heed the public calls for increased transparency in the negotiations, particularly with respect to the intellectual property rights chapters. We request that you increase public engagement in the TPP negotiations with a range of diverse stakeholders and ensure that the final agreement maintains a balanced intellectual property system.

While we recognize the need to maintain a degree of confidentiality in negotiating our trade agreements, we remain disappointed that important stakeholders including civil society groups, businesses, and academics have not been able to meaningfully participate in the treaty process. The Industry Trade Advisory Committee on Intellectual Property (ITAC-15) has a limited membership, precluding a more diverse set of stakeholders from being able to review and provide input on the negotiating texts or regularly meet with United States Trade Representative (USTR) negotiators.

In particular, we are concerned that the TPP Intellectual Property Rights chapter leaked in November 2013 would place undue restrictions on our copyright laws, harming our innovation, our economy, and an open and free Internet. These standards are troubling given their ability to potentially restrict the legislative branch, particularly when Congress has indicated it is beginning to evaluate the merits of revising these laws. For example, as sponsors of H.R. 1892, the Unlocking Technology Act, we are particularly troubled by draft proposals concerning prohibitions on the circumvention of technical protection measures or Digital Rights Management. The leaked treaty draft includes language that would seemingly make any permanent fix to unlocking cellphones illegal. Intellectual property is a dynamic policy area in which preserving Congress’ ability to adapt to the changing nature of technology is absolutely critical for the United States and our trading partners.

To that end, we encourage the Administration to work with the negotiating parties to publicly release the current official text of the TPP intellectual property and related chapters—or  at least summaries of these proposals—and invite public comments on such provisions before the agreement is concluded. A strong precedent already exists for such a process; for instance, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement official text was made public an entire year before the agreement was finalized. Additionally, in the future we urge you to develop a more open model of trade agreement negotiation.

We remain optimistic about the job creation and economic growth prospects that increased trade with our TPP partners could provide to our country. As the last TPP rounds are negotiated, greater transparency and public participation will only increase public support for the agreement and bolster the final product’s legitimacy. 

Sincerely,

 

 

________________________                         _________________________

Jared Polis                                                            Thomas Massie
Member of Congress                                           Member of Congress

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