The US and eleven other countries have reached an agreement on an expansive new trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership - and we have no idea what's in it.
Negotiating nations include the US, Japan, Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, Canada, Mexico, and Brunei Darussalam. Combined, the nations represent about 40 percent of the global economy. The secret accord took more than five years to produce and must be approved by the US Congress. In all, there are 30 chapters, and they won't be made public for at least a month. Negotiating nations thought it would be better to bargain in secret than in public. There have been leaks, but the citizens of the countries negotiating the pact have deliberately been kept in the dark about it.
Even though this treaty has been under negotiation for five years now, covers everything from trade to copyright and patents, and will likely require many countries to change their laws to comply with its provisions, it has been conducted in the utmost secrecy.
Knowledge Ecology International's director James Love said that "the agreement was reached under rules set by the Obama Administration that allowed hundreds of corporate representatives to have access to the negotiating text, while freezing out the public."
The closest the public has come to being informed about the treaty negotiated on its behalf are the infrequent leaks of various chapters. The only people who know what's in the TPP are unelected officials like the negotiators, their corporate advisors, and (hopefully) the heads of state who will have to convince their respective national legislatures to ratify the TPP.
Here in the US Congress has sacrificed much of its ability to rewrite trade treaties to suit US law, leaving them only the option of passing or rejecting the TPP. That means that if the section on IP law is as bad as the leak in May suggested, there's nothing to be done to fix it.
Luckily for the public, there's already strong opposition to ratification. The TPP's opponents make up a broad spectrum ranging from Ford Motor Co to environmentalists, labor leaders, and IP experts, and even some in Congress:
Still, in Congress the outcome for ratifying the agreement “will be affected by what’s in it, and that’s the way it should be,” said Representative Sander Levin of Michigan, in an interview here before the deal came together. He was the one lawmaker to come to Atlanta to monitor final talks.
Mr. Levin, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction for trade, has supported some trade pacts but was skeptical of this one. He is concerned about unfair competition from Japan for his state’s automakers and union workers.
Let's hope there's enough opposition to defeat the treaty, because if, as one legal scholar speculated, the TPP was used as a backdoor to extend US copyright law through other means, then the public got hosed. And that's just the beginning. According to the EFF, the treaty:
"... raises significant concerns about citizens’ freedom of expression, due process, innovation, the future of the Internet’s global infrastructure, and the right of sovereign nations to develop policies and laws that best meet their domestic priorities. In sum, the TPP puts at risk some of the most fundamental rights that enable access to knowledge for the world’s citizens.
If we're lucky, the text of the Trans Pacific Partnership will be released in the next month. And if we're not lucky, the text will be posted after Congress votes on it (I only wish I were being sarcastic).
image by Metropolico.org