Secretive TPP invites activists to Auckland — then locks them out

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Why did the secretive TPP negotiators invite digital rights and health activists to their Auckland round of meetings — only to lock them out at the last minute? Matthew Mitchell and William Davis report.
Why were they locked out?

THE TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP  (TPP) is a regional replacement for the WTO (World Trade Organisation) agreements that failed after the Uruguay Round. It is being developed under a secret process with little transparency, which appears to be a deliberate strategy to overcome public resistance that results in proposals being rejected in WTO negotiations. The TPP is presented as a trade agreement, but actually is far broader than this and may have significant implications for legal systems and democracy in the countries that commit to it.

The TPP negotiations have been running since March 2010, with a series of meetings being held in the participating countries. On 14 November 2012, the two authors were present at a TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) stakeholder meeting organised by the DFAT, who are conducting negotiations on behalf of all Australians. Of course, under the terms of the TPP all these negotiations are held in secret, and no Australians outside the negotiating team actually know what is being agreed to on their collective behalf. In any case, the negotiation team made it clear at that meeting that stakeholders were invited to attend the next negotiation round to be held in Auckland in early December 2012.

Fortunately, we did not expend the time and expense to attend these rounds as those civil society participants that did were locked out for all but 15 minutes during one day of the 10 days of talks (Electronic Frontier Association). This is in stark contrast to the access business interests have during the negotiations. For example, groups of U.S companies (including tobacco company Phillip Morris) invited ambassadors from negotiating countries to lavish dinners in the days before TPP negotiation rounds (AFTINET, 2011)

The lack of TPP transparency concerned at least 130 members of the U.S House of Representatives, who called for openness in a public letter to the U.S Trade Representative, Ron Kirk, noting that:

Under the trade advisory system, representatives from over 600 business interests have such access to both USTR negotiators and the negotiating text.  However, American small business, civil society, and other interests who have a direct and long-term interest in the outcome of these negotiations have little meaningful input.
Where is the Parliamentary outcry in Australia?

A number of civil rights groups from around the pacific, including Australia, have published the following letter in relation to their treatment at the New Zealand round of talks:
Digital Rights and Health Experts Frustrated by New Rule to Shut Out Civil Society from TPP Negotiation Venue

Academics, experts, consumer groups, Internet freedom organizations, libraries, educational institutions, patients and access to medicines groups have flown a long way from around the world to Auckland, New Zealand, to engage with delegates in the 15th round of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.

For the first time, however, we have been locked out of the entire venue, except for a single day out of the 10 days of negotiations. This not only alienates us as members of public interest groups, but also the hundreds of thousands of innovators, educators, patients, students, and Internet users who have sent messages to government representatives expressing their concerns with the TPP. All of us oppose the complete unjustifiable secrecy around the negotiations, but more importantly, the IP provisions that could potentially threaten our rights, and innovation.

These new physical restrictions on us are reflective of the ongoing lack of transparency that has plagued the TPP negotiations from the very beginning.

Industry lobbyists looking to protect their outdated business models have, if anything, been provided greater access and influence over the drafting of the agreement than our groups. We are here on the ground in Auckland to ensure that the TPP really levels the playing field for access to knowledge, access to health and medicines, innovation, and economic development around the world. No matter how much they continue to block us from these negotiations, the more determined we become to ensure that citizens and expert voices are heard.

American Medical Student Association (US)
Consumers International (International)
Electronic Frontier Foundation (International)
Electronic Frontiers Australia (Australia)
InternetNZ (New Zealand)
Knowledge Ecology International (US)
Malaysian AIDS Council (Malaysia)
Malaysian Women’s Action for Tobacco Control and Health – MyWATCH (Malaysia)
New Zealand Nurses Association (New Zealand)
ONG Derechos Digitales (Chile)
OpenMedia.Ca (Canada)
Public Citizen (US)
Public Health Association of Australia (Australia)
Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (International)

Following the Dec 2012 rounds, another set of American civil rights groups have also written an open letter to the U.S Chief Negotiator, Barbara Weisel, calling for greater access and support for civil society in the negotiation rounds.

In a similar vein, the following Australian institutions sent a letter [available here] to the Australian Minister for Trade Craig Emerson in Oct 2011, asking for an end to secrecy around these negotiations:
  • Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU)
  • Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET)
  • Australian Catholic Social Justice Council
  • Australian Conservation Foundation
  • Australian Writers Guild
  • Music Council of Australia
  • Australian Pensioners and Superannuants Federation Inc (APSF)
  • Public Health Association of Australia
  • Doctors Reform Society of Australia
  • Uniting World
  • Australian Education Union (AEU)
  • Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU)
  • Australian Nursing Federation (ANF)
  • Australian Services Union (ASU)
  • Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU)
  • Finance Sector Union (FSU) Chris Gambian, Acting National Secretary
  • State Public Services Federation (SPSF)
  • United Voice
  • Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA
  • Edmund Rice Foundation
  • Franciscan Missionaries of Mary
  • FairWare NSW
  • The Grail (Australia)
  • Mothers Are Demystifying GE (MADGE)
  • People’s Health Movement Australia (PHM Oz)
  • Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association of NSW Inc (CPSA)
  • Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
  • SEARCH Foundation
  • West Australian Regional Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
  • Republic Now Association

But I would like to point out that it appears that groups in the U.S are far more active in calling for openness in the TPP process than groups in Australia.  So, in effect, many of our rights and freedoms, as well as processes of democracy are being defended by concerned U.S citizens. I do hope, however, that many more Australians will step up to the mark soon. Increased coverage of these issues by the mainstream media would be a good start. The seriousness of the threat of some of the proposed elements of the TPP, in particular the Investor-state Dispute Settlements mechanism, have been highlighted in a report by Dr Tienhaara, of the Regulatory Institutions Network of the ANU. In that report Dr Tienhaara states:
This submission outlines serious problems with both the process of investor-state dispute settlement and the handling of important issues of public policy by investment arbitration tribunals. The key recommendations are that the government should:
  • strongly oppose the inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement
  • not sign any agreements that contain an investor-state dispute settlement clause
This clause is of particular of interest to tobacco companies, as it would likely allow them to sue the Australian Government for damages resulting from regulations affecting tobacco sales. In fact, it seems that Phillip Morris is already pursing legal action based on existing trade agreements:
The company is apparently using the existence of a subsidiary company in Hong Kong to pursue this case by using the Australian-Hong Kong bilateral investment treaty which it warned could cost Australia billions of dollars in compensation. Under the investment agreement, companies are allowed to sue the host government if its business is negatively affected by government policies.
The Investor-state Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanisms proposed in the TPP, if accepted, would definitely “add certainty” to this aspect of the business environment for large corporations. There is little doubt that including the ISDS clause in the TPP would contribute to an increase in these disputes and override aspects of sovereignty for all participating nations. Australia is resisting the ISDS, but the very fact that it is on the table is a testament to the power and audacity of the multi-national corporations.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) recently informed registered stakeholders that:
Round 16 of the TPP negotiations will take place at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel, Singapore, from 4-13 March 2013. Registration is now open for TPP stakeholders interested to participate in the stakeholder programme.

If you have any question regarding the information provided in this email or would like more detail on the arrangement of the stakeholder programme, please visit the website of the Ministry of Trade and Industry Singapore (link) or contact the organisers directly at mti_tpp@mti.gov.sg.
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