EFF has spent years battling the undemocratic Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); not because we are against free trade, but because we fear that the undue influence that vested interests have over the United States Trade Representative (USTR). In turn, the USTR exercises its own influence over foreign policymakers, ultimately resulting in punishingly strict copyright rules and ham-fisted digital policies sweeping the globe. These concerns have been fully validated with the belated release of the final text of the agreement.

In fact, even we have been surprised at some of the new Internet-related policies that have now been subsumed into these closed trade negotiations—such as rules dictating how countries have to manage their country-code domain names, and limiting their flexibility to mandate the review of source code in consumer technology, or to require private data of their citizens to be hosted locally. It would be fair to say that until recently nobody ever expected such rules to be the subject of closed door negotiations between trade negotiators, rather than being openly debated in national parliaments, or in more transparent international bodies such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), or even the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

We have believed for years that there must be a better way. Should the TPP ultimately fail to be ratified, this humiliating outcome ought to force trade negotiators and their overseers to arrive at the same realization. But where should they go from there? What is needed is a clear path forward, from closed and opaque policy development processes captured by content industry lobbyists, towards a more open and meaningfully participatory future model of Internet-related global policy coordination.

Today, twenty organizations and experts from around the world released their vision for this inevitable and overdue transition; the Brussels Declaration on Trade and the Internet [PDF]. Among the key recommendations from the Brussels Declaration are that countries should:

  • ensure pro-active dissemination of information, including the regular release of draft proposals and consolidated texts, to enable stakeholders to be fully informed and to meaningfully participate in the negotiation process;

  • provide ample opportunities for meaningful involvement and collaboration with civil society representatives;

  • require balanced representation on any trade advisory bodies or processes, including implementation bodies, and require that they reflect all interests potentially affected; and

  • take affirmative measures to engage organizations and experts representing Internet users and consumers.

The signatories to this document, who include EFF, Creative Commons, and Mozilla among others, were the participants in an intensive strategy meeting that EFF held in Brussels last month, to find solutions to the increasing capture of Internet-related policy development by these secretive and exclusive trade deals. The Brussels Declaration is just the first tangible outcome of that meeting, which will also lead into a series of ongoing activities pursued by participants individually or in coalition, all with the aim of reclaiming users' right to participate in the development of global rules and norms that affect the Internet.

The Brussels Declaration is far from all that we have to say about the transition from closed trade negotiations to more open processes—but it is a start. Should trade ministries rise to the challenge of adopting these recommendations, we are open to working with them in good faith to implement the necessary reforms. If not, the plans laid in Brussels include alternative avenues for the restoration of democracy and user empowerment to international Internet-related public policy development. Either way, the TPP's model of captured, closed-door rulemaking has no future.

Update: The Brussels Declaration has received some further endorsements since it was first posted, including from some who were not present at the Brussels meeting. The version posted below has been updated as of March 15, 2016.