from the transparently-obvious dept
Insofar as we know what's in them, both TPP and TAFTA/TTIP appear to have deep, thorough-going problems, which are unlikely to be addressed by the current approach being used to draw them up. However, a justified criticism of that view might be that anybody can carp, but what should we put in their place? Rising to that challenge is an alliance of some 50 civil society groups, who over four years have put together what they call The Alternative Trade Mandate (pdf), which is specifically designed to present a radically different emphasis for European trade negotiations:
The new 20-page mandate proposes that core principles such as human and labour rights and environmental protection should drive EU trade policy. On several areas, such as food, work, money and raw materials, detailed proposals for change are outlined. One proposal is for the EU to become more self-sufficient in protein and oil crops as alternatives to imports of (genetically-modified) soybeans, palm oil and agrofuels, which are devastating for the environment and small farmers in the global south. The mandate also calls on the EU to hold European corporations accountable for human rights violations, environmental destruction, tax avoidance and tax evasion elsewhere.
One of the areas discussed that will be of particular interest to Techdirt readers concerns intellectual monopolies. The problems in this field are well known; here are some of the ways The Alternative Trade Mandate suggests Europe should fix them:
encourage broad public participation, base policy making on research rather than faith, ideology or corporate lobbying, use transparent research, with publicly documented methods, assumptions, funding sources, and underlying data.
Notice that the first point is about participation and transparency. One reason why the current document is so welcome is that unlike TPP and TAFTA/TTIP, it recognizes that transparency is not some unimportant feature that is tacked on as an after-thought, but a fundamental aspect that must inform the entire process -- before, during and after the negotiations. Its concrete suggestions in this area are probably the most important in the whole proposal:
respect the rights to due process and a fair trial, maintain adequate evidentiary thresholds, avoid undue expansion of criminal and third party liability, strictly scrutinise public enforcement responsibilities delegated to private actors, ensure that legal penalties are reasonable and proportional and do not include restrictions on access to essential goods and services, including access to the Internet or to needed medicines and learning materials.
set a permanent moratorium on further extensions of copyright, related rights and patent terms, place Free/Libre/Open Source Software on an equal competitive footing with proprietary software, require the use of open standards for information produced by or for public entities, grant the public free and unrestricted access to all government-funded endeavors.
All negotiating positions and draft texts must be published promptly. The [European] Commission, member states and parliaments
must regularly and pro-actively provide online access to information about meetings and correspondence between officials, parliamentarians and lobbyists, in order to inform the public on who's attempting to influence trade negotiations, on whose behalf, with what means and agenda, and with what success.
It's a pretty bold document: by their own admission, not even all its participating organizations agree with every part of it. Nobody expects the European Commission to adopt it as their roadmap, but it's important because it shows that there is an alternative to the current rounds of trade and investment negotiations driven solely by corporate demands, one that puts people, not profit, first. And in placing transparency and participation at the heart of its approach -- the authors call it a "living document", and invite anyone to comment and join the debate -- The Alternative Trade Mandate exposes what is perhaps biggest flaw of both TAFTA/TTIP and TPP: the lack of any meaningful transparency or public participation whatsoever.
The starting point for our alternative is reducing the role of the European Commission, and strengthening that of parliaments. This needs to happen at all stages of the decision-making and negotiating process. If democracy is about political decisions being made by people and their elected representatives, trade and investment policies cannot remain with an unelected body.
In order to ensure a maximum level of inclusion and participation, national parliaments should organise meaningful civil society participation at the national level. Only national parliaments and the European Parliament should be able to take the initiative to launch the process leading to trade negotiations.