U.S. trade officials Thursday told Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican leading the fight against Attorney General Eric Holder -- who was held in contempt of Congress Thursday -- that he cannot sit in on trade talks next week in San Diego between the United States and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
Mac Campbell, assistant U.S. trade representative for congressional affairs, told Issa in a letter that his request to observe the negotiations was denied, but he and two members of his staff would receive credentials to attend the event as stakeholders, Reuters reported.
With these credentials you will be able to attend public portions of the event. However, only negotiators from each country are present for negotiation sessions, Campbell said.
Issa, who represents northern San Diego County, is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He has been pushing the White House to release key documents from the botched Fast and Furious U.S.-Mexico gun-running investigation. On Thursday, the Republican-run House voted to find Holder in contempt of Congress for withholding some documents related to the probe.
Although the Constitution gives Congress jurisdiction over trade, the executive branch conducts negotiations under a long-established division of labor through both Republican and Democratic administrations.
The White House consults with Congress on U.S. negotiating objectives, but lawmakers do not typically sit in on talks. Congress can vote to approve or reject most trade deals.
The negotiations next week in San Diego on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership are among the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. Mexico and Canada are also expected to join the negotiations in coming months.
Issa said he wanted to learn more about intellectual property rights provisions in the pact that critics fear could impose tough new rules on Internet companies and users.
Given the immense impact that this agreement will have on many areas of the American economy, including intellectual property, I respectfully request that you allow me and certain members of my staff to be present as observers for this round of negotiations, Issa wrote in the letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, which was sent Tuesday, The Hill reported.
It is my hope that observing the negotiating process firsthand will help to alleviate some of my concerns about the process through which the agreement is being negotiated.
Democrats are also pushing for more information about the talks. On Wednesday, a group of about 130 House Democrats sent Kirk a letter urging him to release draft texts under negotiation and to engage in broader and deeper consultations with lawmakers on U.S. laws and regulations that could be affected by the pact.
They want to see a copy of the high-level confidentiality agreement signed by negotiating parties, and to have more access to negotiations, like the roughly 600 special advisers, who are almost entirely industry representatives, Intellectual Property Watch reported.
In May, Issa posted the intellectual property section of the TPP agreement from February 2011 on his Keep The Web Open site.
Kirk has maintained that the trade talks require a certain amount of secrecy to keep discussions flowing and more open to issues that the countries may otherwise avoid.