from the hypocrisy,-thy-name-is-USTR dept
As we've noted many times before, one of the biggest problems with TAFTA/TTIP and TPP is the almost complete lack of transparency about the negotiations. Although the politicians like to assert that this is "inevitable" during any trade agreement where tough haggling over numbers needs to take place, this deliberately ignores the point that TPP and TTIP are not just trade agreements: they touch on areas that are the domain of public policy and democratic decision-making -- things like regulations, standards, approaches to copyright and patents etc. According to the European Commission's own figures, reductions in trade barriers are only expected to account for around 20% of the claimed economic benefits that could flow from TAFTA/TTIP: the rest comes from reducing "non-tariff barriers" -- the rather loaded name given to things like health, safety and environmental standards.
Against that background of a total refusal to allow the general public access to negotiating documents -- even those that are tabled, and therefore no longer secret -- this story in the Financial Times about the US Trade Representative, Michael Froman, demanding greater openness is, at first sight, rather surprising (NB: subscription or free registration required):
The US push for greater transparency in EU regulations was first made in broad terms by Michael Froman, US trade representative, in a speech in Brussels last September. But in specific proposals put forward in closed-door negotiations in recent weeks the US has stepped up the campaign and made clear that it is one of Washington's main negotiating priorities, according to people close to the talks.
Evidently, the USTR is looking for greater transparency only in the process of drawing up EU regulations, not more generally. That's plainly because US companies intend to lobby Brussels even more vociferously in this area, and to do that they need full access to draft regulations. Here's how Froman wants that to happen:
The US has proposed that EU regulators be required to publish the proposed texts of regulations and open them to public comment. It also wants regulators to be required to consider comments and explain why they had adopted -- or failed to adopt -- outside suggestions when they finalise regulations.
If such an approach were adopted, it would give US companies far more scope to intervene in the EU regulatory process, and perhaps enable them to take legal action against EU regulators -- a threat that would boost US (and EU) corporate influence considerably.
Of course, what's striking about those demands is that the reasoning given in support of them applies equally to the TAFTA/TTIP negotiations: we need to have the proposed texts published so that the public can comment on them and argue against measures there that are likely to have negative consequences for society. We also need to require negotiators to explain why they adopted or failed to adopt suggestions. The FT article quotes US officials as saying:
there is a growing emphasis on transparency in regulation and greater public consultations are increasingly important.
Except, it would seem, when it concerns secretive regulatory agreements like TAFTA/TTIP and TPP.