from the something-to-hide? dept
Back in November, we reported that the EU and Canada were claiming that "a political agreement" on the key elements of the Canada-EU trade agreement, CETA, had been reached. One of the supposed reasons why the negotiations were being conducted in secret was that it was "obviously" not possible to release texts while talks were still going on -- even though that is precisely how WIPO operates. So, now that key parts of the CETA have been agreed upon, presumably the public will finally get to see at least those sections of the text, right? Apparently not, as the Council of Canadians found when it put in a freedom of information request to the Canadian government:
The federal government has denied an access to information request from the Council of Canadians for the working text of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). The grassroots public advocacy organization is accusing the Conservative government of unnecessarily depriving Canadians of the information they need to pass judgement on CETA, and of any opportunity to alter the deal before it is signed.
This exposes nicely the dishonesty of governments around the world when they claim that regrettably they "have" to keep texts secret, but will release them just as soon as they can. Here, we have major parts of CETA that have been agreed upon and where there is no need to keep them secret -- apart, that is, from the real reason why there is no transparency: because the governments concerned know that once the public find out how they have been let down by their representatives, there will be widespread outrage. In a blatant attempt to stifle democratic debate, it has become standard practice with these trade agreements only to release the texts after they have been passed, and there's nothing that can be done about it.
"It's a new year, but we're seeing the same old secrecy from the Harper government. How is anyone expected to say yes or no to this EU deal if Ottawa is not prepared to release it publicly before CETA is signed, sealed and delivered?" asks Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians. "The Prime Minister is misleading Canadians by claiming the CETA negotiations are the most transparent in Canadian history. A fully redacted copy of the text would be more transparent than this."
As the Council of Canadians' trade campaigner points out:
"It is not OK to negotiate sweeping corporate rights deals like CETA behind closed doors and then to deny the public or parliament the opportunity to change anything about them before the deals are signed and passed into law," says Trew. "If the government is so proud of this deal they should gladly present it to Canadians for their approval before signing. Otherwise, the Conservatives could find CETA backfiring for them at election time."
That's certainly how it should work, but among the general public, awareness about the important knock-on consequences of agreements like CETA, TPP and TAFTA/TTIP remains low. And that's how the governments involved aim to keep it, not least by avoiding at all stages any kind of real transparency.