David Levine urges greater transparency in U.S. trade negotiations

Elon Law Professor David Levine co-authored a May 9 letter to U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk, signed by 32 legal academics, calling for public access to U.S. negotiating positions related to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).

The U.S. is the host country for international negotiations over the TPP that began this week in Dallas.

The law scholars’ letter to the U.S. Trade Representative expresses, “profound concern and disappointment at the lack of public participation, transparency and open government processes in the negotiation of the intellectual property chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).”

Levine co-authored the letter with law scholars Sean Flynn, American University Washington College of Law, and Christopher Sprigman, University of Virginia School of Law. Law scholars signing the letter are from current or potential future TPP negotiating countries.

The letter calls on the Obama administration to “reverse course” and work to expand participation and transparency by giving the general public the same rights that have already been provided to cleared corporate advisers to see U.S. proposals in the negotiations. The letter also criticizes the USTR decision to cancel full day stakeholder presentations for the current round of negotiations.

Levine said the lack of transparency in international trade negotiations threatened the ability of treaties to serve public interests.

“Transparency is needed as the United States seeks to establish international frameworks to deal with collective interests of US citizens, like the ability to access information through the Internet and the role of intellectual property law in that process,” Levine said. “TPP is only the most recent example, following on the heels of the near-dead ACTA, to attempt to establish such an international framework while only consulting one interest group: big business. USTR Ronald Kirk has insisted that the TPP negotiating process is transparent, but he is, frankly, wrong.”

Levine has taken a national and international leadership role in producing and coordinating advocacy among intellectual property and technology law scholars regarding proposed federal legislation, including the Stop Online Piracy Act and the PROTECT IP Act, and international agreements including the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement and TPP.

On March 28, Levine’s article, Bring in the Nerds: Secrecy, National Security and the Creation of Intellectual Property Law, examining TPP negotiations and proposing a qualified right to national security information in international lawmaking in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was one of two papers featured at a Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law symposium in New York.

Levine is an assistant professor of law at Elon University School of Law and an affiliate scholar at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School (CIS). His areas of expertise include intellectual property law (including trade secrets), Internet law, government and corporate transparency and accountability.