We've pointed out how the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) is shaping up to be the son of ACTA, but worse
. And one area where negotiators seem to be following the ACTA blueprint is on near total secrecy about the negotiations (even as some are leaking
). This is really stunningly stupid. As many people pointed out when it came to ACTA, the excessive and unprecedented levels of secrecy really gave critics a key point to focus on that generated tremendous interest in what would otherwise have been seen as a boring trade agreement.
And yet, TPP negotiators are doing the exact same thing. A few years ago, you may recall, that US Trade Rep Ron Kirk dismissed calls for transparency in ACTA negotiations by claiming that it would be problematic in that some of the participants might walk away from the table
if they had to tell the citizens they represented what they were actually negotiating. Of course, later in the negotiations, when some countries pushed for transparency and openness, it became clear that it was the US -- who really kicked off ACTA -- that was the driving force behind the unprecedented level of secrecy.
Now, with TPP, it appears they're making the same totally unsubstantiated claims. Glyn Moody
points us to a letter sent by Australian Trade Minister Craig Emerson, which pays lip service to "transparency," but when it comes down to the key question of opening up what's being negotiated, says that's not really possible
Your suggestion that draft negotiating text and position papers should be made public is understandable but problematic. First, this would only be possible if all parties agreed. Many negotiating parties would consider releasing the text as a breach of confidence. Second, negotiating text really has no status until it is agreed by all parties. I am not convinced that exposing contested text, potentially including ambit claims, would assist informed public debate on the issues.
Almost none of that makes sense. First, the claim that it would only be possible if all parties agree should not be a stumbling block. The simple response is that all parties should agree. This is a treaty that will likely have significant impact on people in all these countries. Why shouldn't it be discussed publicly? The "breach of confidence" claim is meaningless for the same reasons. These are about laws and enforcement that will impact citizens. There shouldn't be anything "in confidence" going on here. That the document has "no status" until it's agreed upon certainly sounds like "hey, please don't complain about the document until it's all done and we've agreed to what's in it." Talk about missing the point. The reason people want the negotiations to be open is to stop bad and damaging things from being in that "agreed" upon resolution.
Finally, the last claim is the most ridiculous. How can a more informed public not
assist in informed public debate? Seriously. It takes amazing hubris to try to claim that keeping a document secret leads to greater "informed public debate" on the subject.