Why You Can't Read Obama's Free-Trade Deal

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is one of the biggest trade deals the U.S. has ever negotiated, but the public isn't privy to it.

Why You Can't Read Obama's Free-Trade Deal
Getty Images / Natalie Behring

Depending on who you talk to, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is either "a vital piece of middle-class economics," as President Obama called it, or "a new easy way for corporations to shut down in America," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont.

Problem is, we have no real way of knowing. The trade agreement — one of the biggest in American history — is classified. Journalists and members of the public can't read it.

Most of it, anyway. WikiLeaks has published the draft texts for a few chapters, focusing on intellectual property rights and the environment. 

Lawmakers can see the full text, but they've got to jump through hoops to get their hands on it. (Video via House Democrats

Politico explains,"If you're a member who wants to read the text, you've got to go to a room in the basement of the Capitol Visitor Center and be handed it one section at a time, watched over as you read, and forced to hand over any notes you make before leaving."

"Wait a minute. I'm going to take notes, and then you're going to take my notes away from me, and then you're going to have them in a file, and then you can read my notes? Not on your life," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California.

That's been the general sentiment among critics — mostly liberal Democrats — who say the near total secrecy surrounding the giant, legally binding trade deal is unwarranted. 

The administration sees it differently, saying a certain level of confidentiality — as with most trade deals — is needed to ensure potential trade partners can communicate with a "high degree of candor, creativity, and mutual trust."

In other words, the White House doesn't want to lay all its cards on the table before it has to and risk undermining negotiations with the 11 other governments involved.

And it's not as though the public won't ever have a chance to read the TPP. The fine print will be made public 60 days before the president sends the deal to Congress. 

"There will be months of review. Every T crossed, every I dotted. Everybody is going to be able to see exactly what's in it," President Obama said during a trade forum at Nike's headquarters.

Many corporate lawyers and lobbyists already have. 

"An industry adviser from the Motion Picture Association can sit at their desk with a laptop, enter their username and password and see the negotiating text of a proposed trade agreement. Virtually no one in the Congress ... has the ability to do that," said Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon. 

Over 500 advisers — all members of appointed trade advisory committees — are involved in the talks and have access to draft documents. 

This video includes images from Getty Images.