The Obama administration is hosting the first major round of Trans-Pacific Partnership talks without any formal stakeholder process, says Arthur Stamoulis.
Salt Lake City, Utah — As a major international summit tasked with pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to conclusion opens (this week on 19 November), fair trade advocates in countries throughout the Pacific Rim are decrying worsening opportunities for public participation in an already opaque process.
While the TPP negotiations have long been marred by secrecy, this is the first major round of talks without any formal opportunity for civil society and the public at large to present their views to negotiators.
“Every time I think it’s impossible for the TPP negotiations to become any less transparent, the Obama administration proves me wrong,” said Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign in the United States. “The only thing about the TPP that’s not a secret is who is stands to benefit: big corporations.”
After approximately four years and 19 major rounds of negotiations, TPP negotiators still refuse to share any of their proposals for public scrutiny — despite repeated requests from civil society organisations in most of the 12 countries involved. What information is available about the pact comes largely from leaked texts first published by WikiLeaks and others.
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“The TPP provisions being discussed in Salt Lake City would change Australian laws and prevent current and future governments from regulating in the public interest. We know that corporations are advising negotiators on these matters, but other civil society voices have now been excluded,” said Dr Patricia Ranald, convener of the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network.
“It’s obscene that the public, the civil society and even the parliamentarians have to rely upon leaked documents to find out what their own governments are proposing in their names, but that’s how far this process has devolved,” said Anas Alam Faizli of Blindspot in Malaysia. “What the leaked texts reveal is that this pact is being driven almost entirely by US corporations.”
What was supposedly the last major round of TPP negotiations took place in Brunei in late August. That round, and the rounds before it, contained formal opportunities for nonprofit organisations, labour unions, academics and the general public to register as stakeholders and interact with negotiators. The Salt Lake City Round contains no official stakeholder process.
The Office of the United States Trade Representative, which is hosting the round, has billed its five-day summit as being only for “chief negotiators and key experts”, but issue-specific negotiations for more than a dozen separate chapters are expected to take place, including e-commerce, environment, financial services, intellectual property, investment, labour, legal issues, market access for goods, rules of origin, sanitary and phytosanitary standards, state-owned enterprises, technical barriers to trade and temporary entry of persons.
“The TPP provisions being discussed in Salt Lake could significantly affect the economy, environment and public health of each of the countries involved,” said Raul Burbano, programme director of Common Frontiers in Canada. “With the one small pretense at public participation now gone, it is clearer than ever that the TPP is a back-room deal for corporate interests.”
As with most TPP rounds, protesters from the labour, environmental, consumer and other social justice movements will be outside the negotiations in Salt Lake calling on negotiators to release the texts. An opening press conference and rally was planned outside the Grand America Hotel on 19 November at noon local time, and additional demonstrations will take place throughout the week.
Arthur Stamoulis is executive director of the Citizens Trade Campaign