This week, trade delegates met in San Francisco to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement's e-commerce chapter. It's likely that this secret chapter carries provisions that whittle away at user data protections [pdf]. But we weren't able to say so at this meeting. Not only have they neglected to notify digital rights groups—including EFF, which is based in San Francisco—about the meeting, we could not even discover where it was taking place.
Delegates from TPP countries are right now holding these secretive "inter-sessional" meetings here and in other undisclosed cities around the world. Trade reps for specific issue areas are hammering out "unresolved" issues that are holding up the conclusion of the agreement, and doing so by becoming even more secretive and evasive than ever.
We only heard about a TPP meeting on intellectual property in Mexico City in September through the diplomatic rumor-mill, since the US Trade Rep is no longer bothering to announce the dates or locations of these closed-door side meetings. During this round in Mexico, countries that have been resistant to U.S. demands to sign onto highly restrictive copyright enforcement standards may ultimately be strong-armed into doing so.
Professor Jane Kelsey from New Zealand, who is a long time scholar and activist against corporate trade policies, wrote:
Past inter-sessionals have been shrouded in secrecy to ensure we can’t find out what's happening and we don’t have access to those negotiators who see value in talking with us. The last three years of the TPPA have been widely condemned for their lack of transparency. The process is now going further underground.
The Growing Chorus of International Criticism
Fortunately, heavy criticism by lawmakers, opposition leaders, and civil society groups from around the world is mounting against the TPP and its harmful provisions against users’ rights.
A group of Congress members in Peru presented a motion to demand a thorough and public debate on current TPP proposals and for trade delegates to give a comprehensive report on the ongoing negotiations. One of the major concerns they raised was about the copyright provisions that would “impose rigid copyright rules, similar to those criticized in SOPA” that would threaten access to information, the Internet, and cultural works. This is likely a result of a petition denouncing the TPP’s copyright and patent provisions that gathered over 3,400 signatures and was delivered to President Humala in June.
Similarly, lawmakers, politicians, and advocates from around the world have been challenging the legitimacy of this undemocratic trade agreement:
- Chilean Senators recently called for a public debate on TPP, requesting the President to provide “timely and accurate” information on the affects of the agreement on their country. They directly mention Chilean digital rights organization, ONG Derechos Digitales, and former Chilean TPP negotiator who spoke out against limits on access to knowledge and culture on the Internet.
- In New Zealand, a Parliamentary member is demanding answers from the Prime Minister about the secrecy of the agreement and how its provisions could undermine consumer protection laws.
- Canadian Member of Parliament Don Davies has called on the Prime Minister to give Parliamentary Member access to the TPP, especially in light of documents revealing how a small group of industry associations have had special access to Canada’s negotiating position.
- The Malaysian Cabinet released a statement [PDF] saying that would not be bound by a fixed timeline on TPP, and called for more transparency in the process. Malaysian opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, also attacked the TPP.
Is This the End Game?
The 19th and possibly last official round of talks took place in Brunei in August. Civil society groups on the ground reported that the negotiation venue made it even more hostile to their ability to meet with negotiators, and the meager opportunities that civil society groups usually have had to officially engage with trade reps were cut down even more. Reports following the Brunei talks claimed that negotiators had “advanced their technical work” on drafting the text of the agreement. Of course, given that none of the drafts or summaries of the text is made public, there is no way to even know what that even means.
At this point, the timeline for TPP’s conclusion is ambiguous. The U.S. Trade Rep Michael Froman continues to claim that the U.S. will not force countries to rush a deal by any particular deadline, while also stating that the Obama administration has placed top priority on concluding the TPP before the end of the year. No matter what Froman states, the fact that negotiations have moved into these highly secretive inter-sessional meetings indicates how desperate they have become to finalize this trade deal as soon as possible.
The copyright provisions in the TPP will carve a highly restrictive copyright regime into stone and prevent countries from enacting laws that best address and promote users’ interests. In this final stage, it’s time for us to demand that our lawmakers join those who are already denouncing this agreement. We must drag this out into the light and reject international laws that uphold corporate interests at the expense of users’ rights.
If you're in the U.S., join us in fighting fast track authority, which empowers the White House to unilaterally negotiate and sign trade agreements. It not only hinders Congress from exercising its constitutionally mandated power to oversee and amend trade deals, it could impact their sovereign power to make and reform copyright and Internet policy domestically. Take this action and demand that our lawmakers oppose fast track, ask them to call for a hearing, and exercise their authority to oversee the U.S. trade office’s secret copyright agenda.