Representatives Barney Frank and Ron Paul have joined forces to request the details of trade agreements the U.S. Trade Representative made with the European Union, Japan and Canada to compensate them after the U.S. started the process of withdrawing its online gambling trade commitments with the WTO.
A letter from Frank (D-Mass.) and Paul (R-Texas) to U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab was posted on the House Committee on Financial Services Web site last week.
The letter, dated March 14, reads:
"We are writing to request details of the trade agreement between the United States and the European Union, Japan and Canada that was negotiated in December to compensate these nations for withdrawing our GATS gambling commitments under Article 21.
"Press reports have indicated that new trade opportunities will be provided in the postal and courier, research and development, storage and warehouse, and testing and analysis sectors, but no dollar amount has been attached to these new concessions, and very few specifics have been provided.
"Furthermore, as indicated in the attached article, it is our understanding that your agency has cited 'national security' in refusing to release details about this agreement in response to a FOIA request. We find this unacceptable.
"If, in fact, there are some additional trade concessions that were made that do have national security implications, we request a secure briefing on those issues. However, if this is merely an attempt to avoid revealing the cost of these trade concessions, either because they would be viewed as too costly by the United States or not costly enough by the negotiating countries, this FOIA denial on the grounds of 'national security' would appear to be a misuse of the FOIA process.
"It is my understanding that, prior to this settlement, some trade experts estimated that the trade concessions could cost the United States many billions of dollars in compensation.
"We need to know how much the United States government has conceded in furtherance of this ill-advised policy, in addition to the losses we have already sustained at the WTO, and we expect a prompt response to this request."
It took several months for the U.S. Trade Representative to reach agreements with the nations in question after the United States announced its intention to withdraw from World Trade Organization commitments regarding online gambling and betting services.
This is the second request from a member of Congress asking to see the details of the agreements. Rep. Peter De Fazio also circulated a letter in mid-March encouraging members of Congress to join him in efforts to get a copy of the agreements.
Having Congress look into the deals the USTR made could put the settlement agreements in jeopardy.
Nao Matsukata, formerly director of policy planning for USTR Robert Zoellik and now Alston & Bird LLP senior advisor, said after De Fazio sent out his letter that the USTR may have abused its authority by granting new market access to countries without first getting consent from Congress' trade committees.
Having Congress look into the matter could invalidate the deals that were made and take the United States back to the negotiating table all over again.
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