There's a fantastic op ed in the NY Times, by Lori Wallach and Ben Beachy from Public Citizen, questioning why the TPP negotiating texts are still secret
. As they note, this level of secrecy is unprecedented:
Even the George W. Bush administration, hardly a paragon of transparency, published online the draft text of the last similarly sweeping agreement, called the Free Trade Area of the Americas, in 2001.
But, of course, we all know the answer as to why. As they note, for all this secrecy, the administration has given tremendous access to "600 trade advisers" -- basically employees from big companies who get privileged access to the draft text and to negotiators that even Congress is denied
. And it's pretty damn clear that the administration just doesn't want Congress to have much say in this, because Congress might actually do its job and represent the public's interest. In fact, the op-ed notes, former USTR Ron Kirk was pretty explicit about this:
So why keep it a secret? Because Mr. Obama wants the agreement to be given fast-track treatment on Capitol Hill. Under this extraordinary and rarely used procedure, he could sign the agreement before Congress voted on it. And Congress’s post-facto vote would be under rules limiting debate, banning all amendments and forcing a quick vote.
Ron Kirk, until recently Mr. Obama’s top trade official, was remarkably candid about why he opposed making the text public: doing so, he suggested to Reuters, would raise such opposition that it could make the deal impossible to sign.
But, you would think that the administration had learned something
from the SOPA fight (and the ACTA fight in Europe) -- and it's that the public is not a fan of deals regarding copyright and patents that are negotiated by big business representatives in back rooms. Administration officials who think that TPP is different than SOPA because it let a few tech companies into the back room may find themselves mistaken.
Remember the debate in January 2012 over the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would have imposed harsh penalties for even the most minor and inadvertent infraction of a company’s copyright? The ensuing uproar derailed the proposal. But now, the very corporations behind SOPA are at it again, hoping to reincarnate its terms within the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s sweeping proposed copyright provisions.
From another leak, we know the pact would also take aim at policies to control the cost of medicine. Pharmaceutical companies, which are among those enjoying access to negotiators as “advisers,” have long lobbied against government efforts to keep the cost of medicines down. Under the agreement, these companies could challenge such measures by claiming that they undermined their new rights granted by the deal.
If the administration is betting that as long as they keep big business happy, that the public protests won't matter, they may be in for a surprise.