USTR's Anti-Transparency Rules For TAFTA/TTIP Documents Published

from the now-let's-have-the-others-anyway dept

Alongside the corporate sovereignty provisions, perhaps the most controversial aspect of the TAFTA/TTIP negotiations is the deep secrecy that surrounds them. This is largely unbroken on the US side, aside from a few token meetings with the public in which questions are deflected with content-free or generic replies. The EU has at least released a few documents outlining its general negotiating positions, although this week we learned that British MPs aren’t allowed to see details of the mandate that was given to the EU’s negotiators, so the openness is still minimal. Now, in a rather ironic development, through a Freedom Of Information Act request Knowledge Ecology International has managed to obtain a letter sent in July 2013 to the European Commission outlining the measures the USTR will be taking to keep the talks as un-transparent as possible:

As we prepare for the initiation of negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) Agreement, I would like to thank you for your letter of July 5, 2013, describing the arrangements that the European Union (EU) has in place for the protections of negotiating documents, given the sensitive nature of their content and that apply in the context of negotiations for a TTIP Agreement. I take this opportunity to inform you of the arrangements that the United States will apply for the protection of TTIP negotiating documents, given the sensitive nature of their content.

There is the obligatory nod to openness:

Transparency is an important principle for the Obama Administration, just as it is for the EU.

Which is swiftly negated by the following:

However, the United States also shares the EU’s view that a certain level of special care in handling these documents is necessary to enable mutual trust between negotiators and for each side to preserve positions taken for tactical reasons with regard to third countries with which we are or could be negotiating in the future.

Those are pretty feeble excuses. It’s imposing secrecy that makes trust necessary: if everything in the negotiations were out in the open, as is the case for WIPO meetings, trust wouldn’t be required. And as for “preserving positions”, their final form will be evident for all to see in the agreement, assuming it is concluded, and how those final positions were achieved tactically is largely a product of the particular negotiating dynamics between the US and EU, and hardly relevant to any other talks which might happen. As the letter explains, basically everything is to be kept secret, except for two groups of people:

For the US side, this means that documents containing such information may be provided only to (1) US government officials, and (2) persons outside the US government who participate in its internal consultation process and who have a need to review or be advised of the information in these documents. Anyone provided access to the documents will be informed that they are not permitted to share the documents with persons who are not authorized to see them.

That is, lobbyists can still be provided with access, since it is obviously vital that they “review” whether the terms are acceptable to their industries, but there’s nothing for the general public. No surprise there, but the following is news:

The United States will hold the TTIP documents in confidence for five years after entry into force of the TTIP Agreement, or if no agreement enters into force, for five years after the last round of negotiations.

That’s even worse than for TPP, where the participants have agreed to keep all the negotiating documents secret for four years after ratification. That’s an indication that the USTR is not content with keeping details of the negotiations away from the prying eyes of the public as they happen, but aims to lock them down for even longer than with TPP. You really have to wonder what the US has to hide there.

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Comments on “USTR's Anti-Transparency Rules For TAFTA/TTIP Documents Published”

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Anon E. Mous (profile) says:

While the USTR likes to term the TAFTA/TTIP as negotiations with other countries, it has been anything but that.

USTR position has been one of forcing and using coercion to to get other countries to crumble to their position.

The whole reason the TAFTA/TTIP is being negotiated in private, while withholding public or politician access to the documents is because because the USTR knows that the public and politicians would know what a terrible deal this is.

Beech says:

Makes sense

Keeping the details secret for 5 years makes enough sense to me. I mean, the US already has secret court hearings using secret evidence (which the defense isnt allowed to look at) gathered based on the secret rulings of a secret court’s opinions on secret interpretations of secret laws. So why not obligate us to follow a secret treaty too?

Really, I just thought (like everyone else) that negotiations were being kept secret because if we knew what was in the treaties we’d be pissed…but if that was it, why not release the text as soon as it’s finalized? Or voted on? Now it would seem that the public won’t know what’s in this document until its been finalized, voted on, ratified, been enforced, then wait half a decade. Maybe we’ll just be THAT pissed?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Makes sense

Best I can figure the idea is to block any potential legal challenges, with the idea being that you can’t challenge something if all you can see is it’s effects(similar to one of the NSA’s defenses), and by the time the exact text of the ‘agreement’ is available to the public they can argue that ‘It’s worked out okay for 5 years now, no need to change anything’.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Makes sense

“Der Process” by Franz Kafka comes to mind.

They are correct that some level of secrecy is needed during the negotiations, but it doesn’t necessitate what they are bringing to the table. 5 years moratorium is completely ridiculous protectionism and should be beyond unacceptable for any selfrespecting politician who wants to discuss it instead of robo-signing. Since modern trade agreements hold binding minimum requirements for legislation, removing the ability to bring the specific problem up in a public debate on later reforms seems like a massive distortion of power.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Makes sense

Really, I just thought (like everyone else) that negotiations were being kept secret because if we knew what was in the treaties we’d be pissed…but if that was it, why not release the text as soon as it’s finalized? I think theat you have slightly misunderstood the situation here.

The actual text of the agreement will be published but the details of the negotriations that led to it will be kept secret.

I’m not trying to defend it by the way – but we may as well be accurate in what we are attacking.

Peter (profile) says:

a) the lobbyists on the two sides largely representing the same global interests and
b) the NSA likely to have access to all information deemed to be relevant,
it would seem the the public are the only ones completely in the dark, and the EU severely disadvantaged. While it is understandable that the US want to preserve their NSAdvantage, why would the EU support them in this?

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