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U.S. TRADE REPRESENTATIVE SUED FOR HIDING DOCUMENTS

Withholding Could Hamper Protection of Environment and Health Laws
U.S. TRADE REPRESENTATIVE SUED FOR HIDING DOCUMENTS

Withholding Could Hamper Protection of Environment and Health Laws

WASHINGTON, DC -- At the same moment the new U.S. Trade Representative,
Robert Zoellick, was urging Congress to grant President Bush new
international trade powers, a lawsuit was filed against him down the street
in U.S. District Court. The suit challenges Zoellick's decision to keep the
public in the dark about the administration's latest trade negotiations for
the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, which would expand the North
American Free Trade Agreement -- NAFTA -- to encompass the entire hemisphere.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, March 7, by Earthjustice on behalf of the
Center for International Environmental Law, seeks to force the US Trade
Representative (USTR) to disclose written proposals it has made to other
governments concerning provisions of the FTAA agreement, a treaty that would
bind the United States to powerful new trade rules. The USTR refused CIEL's
request to make the documents public.

"USTR is negotiating binding rules that could affect the ability of the
United States to protect the environment and human health," said Stephen
Porter, Senior Attorney with CIEL. "To hide what it is doing from concerned
citizens is shameful for a government that considers itself the world's model
for democracy. The USTR is willing to give these documents to 33 foreign
nations, but not the American public."

Using the Freedom of Information Act, CIEL asked Zoellick to disclose
documents it provided to foreign negotiators during meetings last year to
discuss potential FTAA provisions protecting foreign investors. Similar
provisions in the NAFTA have been the basis for a $970 million dollar
challenge to a California plan to phase out the use of a harmful gasoline
additive.

Extending these rules to the FTAA could further weaken the ability of the
United States to protect the environment and human health.

Although the USTR admitted the existence of the documents, it refused to make
them public, claiming they were protected by FOIA's exemption for "inter- and
intra-agency communications protected by the deliberative process privilege."
However, as CIEL made clear before filing its complaint, the documents do not
qualify for the exemption and the USTR waived any privilege when it disclosed
the records to foreign governments participating in the treaty negotiations.

USTR did post sketchy summaries of the documents on its website, but they
conceal more than they reveal, according to CIEL and Earthjustice.

"Transparency and public participation are hallmarks of democracy," said
Martin Wagner, Director of International Programs for Earthjustice. "If
citizens are kept in the dark until negotiations are completed, they will
never be able to provide useful advice concerning rules that would directly
affect their lives and health. The important decisions happen early in the
process. We are only left to wonder what they're trying to hide. Are US trade
officials giving foreign investors the power to overturn our
health and environmental laws? The Bush administration won't say. We are suing
for openness."

A copy of the complaint is available online at www.earthjustice.org
 
 

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