12 Jun 2015
Basically, these trade agreements are being kept secret because they violate regulations and national laws for the sole benefit of large corporations.
On this web page, the Canadian government asks if we are “Looking for a brief recap of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiating rounds?“ This is a representative sample of what it offers to explain two years worth of negotiations since Canada joined other governments in writing the TPP:
“Among the topics discussed in Washington were legal and institutional issues, textiles, rules of origin, state-owned enterprises, environment, goods market access, technical barriers to trade, and e-commerce.”
Feel better informed? They might as well have said “we talked about a lot of stuff” and left it at that. Here is something way more informative to read: a list of the 605 (overwhelmingly corporate) official “advisers” in the U.S. who have seen, and helped write, the TPP. In the USA, members of Congress and a limited number of aides can see the text provided they agree not to take notes or discuss the details publicly. Apologists for this undemocratic idiocy become irate when the TPP is called a “secret”, but, at the same time, justify hiding it from the public by claiming it improves governments’ bargaining position. Apparently we should assume that governments and their corporate “advisers” have spent years secretly fighting like demons on behalf of cab drivers, factory workers and the unemployed. In Australia, MPs are only allowed to see the TPP text if they sign a confidentiality agreement saying they won’t divulge details to the public for four years. What if the TPP is passed? Are they then allowed to talk what they saw? No. The agreement says “these confidentiality requirements shall apply for four years after entry into force of the TPP, or if no agreement enters into force, for four years after the last round of negotiations…” In the USA, the public is supposed to be impressed that Obama is required to release the full text (in exchange for getting “fast track” negotiating authority) sixty days before signing the agreement – the complex agreement government officials and hundreds of corporate insiders spent several years writing behind closed doors. Could contempt for the public, and for democracy, be any more obvious? This site jokingly claims the TPP has been already released by the Obama administration. It sums the absurdity up very succinctly. Secrecy aside, would most of the public understand the TPP – the parts that have been leaked by Wikileaks that is, or the seventeen chapters of TISA (Trade in Services Agreement) that have also been leaked by Wikileaks? No. These deals are written in technical language that requires lawyers and economists – or others who have spent a lot of time researching – to fully grasp. Now there are legal experts and economists who are not in the pockets of powerful western governments and big corporations. Such people could credibly explain what the implications of these agreements are for 99.999 percent of the public who are not among the insiders. Unfortunately, the battle doesn’t end when the details of these secret agreements, thanks to Wikileaks and other activists, are made public long before governments want them to be. We are still faced with a struggle against the corporate media that is very good at marginalizing those who explain exactly why governments and corporate insiders worked in secrecy for so many years. The secrecy is disgusting and revealing but it is also rather ineffective at this point. The leaked sections that have been published, and our experience with previous agreements like NAFTA, tells us essentially what the negotiating governments are after – ways to stuff the pockets and expand the power of the insiders at the expense of everyone else. The corporate media, not secrecy, is actually the more important barrier to fair and open debate. Dean Baker explained “TPP and TTIP are about getting special deals for businesses that they would have difficulty getting through the normal political process. For example, oil and gas companies that think they should be able to drill everywhere may be able to get rules that prevent national or state governments from restricting their activities. This could mean, for example, that New York State would have to compensate potential frackers for the ban that Governor Cuomo imposed last week. Similarly, the financial industry will be looking to roll back the sort of regulations put in place through Dodd-Frank and similar legislation in other countries. Again, if governments want to ensure that their financial system is safe, they may have to pay the banks for the privilege.” Everyone owes a special thanks to Canada’s Finance Minister for being brazen enough to argue that the US should loosen up financial regulations adopted since crash of 2008 in order to be in compliance with NAFTA. As Lori Wallach explained about TISA in this Democracy Now interview, governments and their small army of corporate insiders are working on ways to set the clock back on financial regulation – to about the 1990s! She describes a provision that is actually called the “standstill” in the text of the agreement. It is explicitly designed to prevent governments for bringing in new financial regulations that corporations don’t like. Does the public support a new ban a particular type of derivative that is going to be a disaster? Does the public want new rules that protect their privacy online? Too bad. TISA will make many new rules, and even existing ones, into trade violations. No wonder governments have insisted on keeping these agreements secret for so many years.