On Thursday, December 11, 2014, ARL joined a diverse coalition of forty-eight organizations and individuals in submitting a letter to the trade ministers of the twelve countries involved in the negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) calling for enhanced transparency and the release of the negotiating text. This letter comes on the heels of the European Commission’s statement agreeing to increased transparency in its current negotiations in a trade agreement with the United States.
Currently, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States are involved in the negotiations of the TPP, a large regional trade agreement. The agreement has been negotiated for the past five years and covers a trading area that comprises forty-percent of the world’s GDP; eventually it is intended to cover the entire APEC region. The final text of the TPP will bind all members to the agreement and make any changes extremely difficult. Even where the United States’ proposals do not seek changes to current law, some provisions could lock in standards and prevent reform.
The negotiations of the TPP have been conducted largely in secret and there has not been an official release of the negotiating text or proposals. While there have been several leaks of various chapters, including three leaks of the intellectual property chapter, these leaks have been fairly infrequent and have not reflected the most current state of the text. Furthermore, while full rounds of negotiations previously included stakeholder events, there is little information about where and when TPP negotiations are currently taking place.
Without transparency, it can be difficult to provide meaningful presentations or commentary when the texts are kept secret. As ARL and other groups have noted previously with respect to the TPP and other trade agreements, transparency is critical in the ability to comment on the negotiating text and “ensure the forging of an agreement that does not unfairly prejudice any stakeholders.” With respect to the Free Trade Area of the Americas Agreement (FTAA), after the consolidated negotiating text was made public and comments were invited, numerous library associations wrote positively regarding the open process for reviewing and commenting on the draft text.
In contrast to the TPP negotiations in which all negotiating parties have agreed to keep the texts secret, the European Commission recently agreed to publish the dates, locations, names and organizations it meets with and the topics of its discussions. With regard to the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, the Commission intends to put forward the following actions:
- Making public more EU negotiating texts that the Commission already shares with Member States and Parliament;
- Providing access to TTIP texts to all Members of the European Parliaments (MEPs), not just a select few, by extending the use of a “reading room” to those MEPs who had no access to restricted documents so far;
- Classifying less TTIP negotiating documents as “EU restricted”, making them more easily accessible to MEPs outside the reading room;
- Publishing and updating on a regular basis a public list of TTIP documents shared with the European Parliament and the Council.
In its statement announcing enhanced transparency, the Commission noted that, “For people to regain trust in Europe, we have to open the windows wide and be more transparent about the way we work . . . The Commission intends to lead by example on transparency matters.”
The letter to TPP trade ministers, signed by organizations and individuals from across the TPP region, calls for the TPP negotiating countries to follow the lead of the European Commission and release the negotiating texts of the TPP:
The end of TPP negotiations now seems to be coming into focus. They have come down to high-level political decisions by negotiating countries, and the text is largely completed except for some resolutions on remaining landing zones. At this point, we know that there is a draft of the TPP that is mostly agreed upon by those negotiating the deal.
Today, we strongly urge you to release the unbracketed text and to release the negotiating positions for text that is bracketed, now and going forwards as any future proposals are made. The public has a legitimate interest in knowing what has already been decided on its behalf, and what is now at stake with our various countries’ positions on these controversial regulatory issues.
We call on you to consider the recent announcement from the European Commission as a welcome precedent to follow, thereby re-affirming your commitment to fundamental principles of transparency and public participation in rule making. The negotiations in Washington DC this week would provide the perfect opportunity for such a ground-breaking accord to be announced.