U.S. denies congressman Issa request to observe trade talks

WASHINGTON Thu Jun 28, 2012 6:13pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. trade officials on Thursday told a Republican lawmaker at the center of a legal fight with the Obama administration he cannot sit in on trade talks next week in San Diego between the United States and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

Mac Campbell, assistant U.S. trade representative for congressional affairs, told Representative Darrell Issa in a letter that his request to observe the negotiations was denied, but he and two members of his staff would receive credentials to attend the event as "stakeholders."

"With these credentials you will be able to attend public portions of the event. However, only negotiators from each country are present for negotiation sessions," Campbell said.

Issa, who represents northern San Diego County, is chairman of the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He has been pushing the White House to release key documents from the botched "Fast and Furious" U.S.-Mexico gun-running investigation.

On Thursday, the Republican-run House voted to find U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for withholding some documents related to the probe.

Although the U.S. Constitution gives Congress jurisdiction over trade, the executive branch conducts negotiations under a long-established division of labor through both Republican and Democratic administrations.

The White House consults with Congress on U.S. negotiating objectives, but lawmakers do not typically sit in on talks. Congress can vote to approve or reject most trade deals.

The negotiations next week in San Diego on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership are between the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. Mexico and Canada are also expected to join the negotiations in coming months.

Issa said he wanted to learn more about intellectual property rights provisions in the pact that critics fear could impose tough new rules on Internet companies and users.

"It is my hope that observing the negotiating process firsthand will help to alleviate some of my concerns about the process through which the agreement is being negotiated," Issa said in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

Members of President Barack Obama's own party are also pushing for more information about the talks.

On Wednesday, a group of about 130 House Democrats sent Kirk a letter urging him to release draft texts under negotiation and "to engage in broader and deeper consultations" with lawmakers on U.S. laws and regulations that could be affected by the pact.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Will Dunham)

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