Advocacy Groups Worldwide Ask For Terms Of Trans-Pacific Partnership To Be Made Public

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a really big deal — literally. The international trade agreement, still under negotiation, has wide-ranging implications for every sector of the American economy and individuals’ rights within it. But its contents are, largely, a complete black box mystery. And now a large group of advocates from around the world are once again asking the negotiators and nations involved to change that.

Nearly 50 organizations from around the globe have signed onto a letter (PDF) urging all of the TPP participants to make the negotiations more transparent and more open to the public. There are advocacy groups on board from nearly all of the participating nations, as well as internationally-known names like Creative Commons and Oxfam.

The list of American organizations signing on to the letter includes the American Library Association, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, Public Knowledge, and the Sunlight Foundation, along with another eight organizations and several academics affiliated with major universities.

After five years of negotiations, the letter says, there is finally a solid draft that everyone roughly agrees on. But that draft is still being kept private, away from the public and even from other members of the governments involved (for example, the United States Congress). And that is the key problem.

“We strongly urge you to release the unbracketed text and to release the negotiating positions for the text that is bracketed, now and going forwards as any future proposals are made,” the letter asks. “The public has a legitimate interest in knowing what has already been decided on its behalf, and what is now at stake with our various countries’ positions on these controversial regulatory issues.”

Although the various iterations of the draft text have remained secret over the past several years of negotiations, some information has still managed to leak out around the edges. The known categories in the 29 chapters of the TPP include regulations relating to intellectual property and copyright law, banking regulation, agriculture, drug (pharmaceutical) regulation, environmental protection, tobacco sales, apparel manufacture, labor law, and regulations about publicly vs. privately owned utilities and enterprises.


Internet, technology, and privacy organizations like the EFF are particularly concerned about the chapter about IP and copyright law, as an earlier leaked draft of that chapter contained restrictions on even temporary copies of files (like the kind your computer makes hundreds of times a day just to function) as well as increased criminal penalties for copyright infringement, limitations on fair use, and other provisions that would easily categorize ordinary consumers as copyright criminals.

Each round of meetings takes place in a different venue. This week, talks are continuing in Washington, D.C., and that’s where a representative from one of the Canadian groups presented a copy of the letter to the delegates.

In a statement, EFF global policy analyst Maira Sutton said that the pieces that have leaked “show extremely troubling provisions, including expanding laws that hurt fair use and free speech along with a number of privacy-threatening enforcement proposals. We’ve recently seen the European Union take bold new steps to enable real public participation in its trade agreement negotiations with the United States, and it’s time for TPP ministers to follow their lead, stop the secrecy, and release official drafts of the TPP text.”

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.