The United States has sought public comments on the negotiation and the European Parliament has given its assent to the actual negotiating draft. (Although individual members of Congress have weighed in on the agreement, Congress has not yet held hearings on the talks.) But neither the United States nor the EU has clearly delineated how they might incorporate public comments into the negotiation process.
The United States, in particular, has not met its promises to ensure transparent and accountable governance. During his first campaign for the presidency, then Sen. Obama promised to restore the American people's trust in government by making it more open and transparent. The president fulfilled this pledge, at least in part, with his Open Government Directive, issued in 2009, requiring government agencies to go public with their data. Nonetheless, the administration's approach to trade negotiations remains decidedly closed. For example, the website for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative -- charged with negotiating on behalf of the United States -- is essentially a dissemination device, rather than an interactive forum on which citizens can register their input. At a minimum, the website should be used facilitate a broader dialogue with Americans concerned about trade issues; it should be interactive with staff designated to respond to citizen comment.
In general, trade policies in both the United States and the European Union are dictated by senior government officials who are generally responsive to a small group of concerned citizens and business interests. The U.S. Trade Representative does allow some individuals greater insights into the negotiations. For example, cleared advisors, including some members of Congress and congressional staff, are allowed to see up to date information about the negotiations -- but they are required to have a secret clearance and to keep this information confidential. The bulk of these advisors represent commercial and economic interests -- or are individuals with connections to the current administration. Neither the United States nor the European Union has developed an advisory committee infrastructure to examine how to achieve regulatory coherence in a transparent, accountable manner -- so here are two suggestions:
First, Congress and the EU Parliament should keep a close watch on the negotiations. Both bodies should also clarify whether achieving regulatory coherence means harmonization, mutual recognition or some other approach. Second, the U.S. Trade Representative and other agencies involved in the negotiations should become more proactive as well as more interactive online. The Obama administration should develop a website encouraging consistent public feedback and dialogue on the T-TIP throughout the course of the negotiations, rather than solely at the beginning and end. The website should clearly delineate the objectives of negotiations on regulatory coherence as well as the administration's desired outcome. The website should also include regular updates on the negotiations for each chapter of the proposed agreement, particularly those that relate to environmental and social regulations.
Given the economic and political import of these negotiations, neither the United States nor the EU can afford to lose public trust in these negotiations. Policymakers cannot long proceed with secretive negotiations over policies that are not accountable to citizens as the very public scuttling of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement and the Multilateral Agreement on Investment reveal. In fact, in its required Open Government Plan, USTR agreed that it needed to change its culture and become more responsive to the public at large, but it is struggling to figure out how to do just that.
Regulatory coherence is an important objective for the United States and the European Union. If the two trade behemoths can find common ground on regulations, their shared standards will set the bar for the global economy and facilitate high standards worldwide. They will also enhance the clout of the world's oldest and largest democracies in the global economy. But policymakers must negotiate these regulations in a transparent and accountable manner that reflects 21st century standards for democratic governance. After all, even in the 18th century, policymakers such as James Madison recognized that a "popular government without popular information, or means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both."