PRESSURE BUILDS ON USTR REGARDING WTO SETTLEMENT
National security is not an acceptable response, say leading politicians
The US Trade Representative at the World Trade Organisation was faced with some pointed questions on witholding information by two influential Congressmen this week.
Barney Frank, chairman of the powerful House Financial Services Committee, and Ron Paul, the ranking member of the House Sub-committee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade and Technology were following up on media reports that Susan C Schwab's office had declined to release details of a trade deal with the EU, Japan and Canada on grounds of "national security" when this information was requested by freelance journo Ed Brayton (see previous InfoPowa report)
The settlement concerned compensation for the unilateral withdrawal by the USTR of American WTO obligations on gambling.
In a letter dated March 14 to Schwab the two Congressmen not only requested details of the settlement, but asked for a justification of the use of the "national security" classification to withold this information.
“We find this (citation of national security) unacceptable," the Congressmen wrote. "If, in fact, there were some additional trade concessions that were made that do have national security implications, we request a secure briefing on those issues.”
However, the letter adds: “If this is merely an attempt to avoid revealing the cost of these trade concessions, either because they would be viewed too costly by the United States or not costly enough by the negotiating countries, this Freedom of Information Act denial on the grounds of ‘national security’ would appear to be a misuse of the FOIA process.”
The letter concludes: "Ultimately, we believe that this withdrawal (by the USTR of gambling obligations at the WTO) was a mistake, because it is in furtherance of a policy – the UIGEA – which is an inappropriate interference with the personal freedoms of American citizens that we are working to undo."
The letter ends with the expectation that the USTR will furnish a prompt response.