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Warren stirs fake debate over trade

Government secrecy is a far more captivating topic than the failings of intellectual property protections in southeast Asia. So it’s hardly a surprise that Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has made secrecy the focus of her latest critique of the most ambitious trade agreement in U.S. history.

Unfortunately, her charge that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is being negotiated in secret suffers from two fatal defects. The first is that the deal isn’t so secret. The second is that some secrecy is justified.

Warren is right that talks over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which are at a delicate stage, are taking place out of public view. But members of Congress can read the draft agreement at any time — which, to her credit, she has. Meanwhile, environmental, labor and consumer advocates are invited to join advisory committees that guide the U.S.’s position in the talks.

Yes, they must abide by confidentiality rules — as must members of Congress. That’s entirely appropriate. By their very nature, treaty negotiations are usually classified until they’re finished.

The complete text of the deal will be made public before it is voted on — if Congress passes a bill giving President Barack Obama the authority he needs to negotiate. This so-called fast-track measure directs the president to give Congress 60 days notice before signing an agreement. At that point, he must publish the accord online. Congress can’t vote on it for at least another 30 days.

In human terms, trade does create winners and losers, the latter group including those whose manufacturing jobs get shipped overseas. Trade’s victims deserve public assistance, retraining and education as the economy adjusts. They also deserve a more honest debate over the real costs and benefits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.