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.