Ottawa – With an undisclosed location, hidden session schedules, and even key foreign negotiators kept out of the loop, the secrecy surrounding next week’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiating round in Ottawa marks a new low point in transparency for an already secretive trade deal, says the Council of Canadians.
Despite being less than a week away from hosting hundreds of negotiators and other officials from the other 11 TPP member countries — which include Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam — the Canadian government has kept a tight lid on any details about the Ottawa meeting.
“The Canadian government claims that ‘interested stakeholders have an opportunity to provide their views related to Canada’s interests in the TPP' but it won’t release even the most basic information to allow for stakeholder access to negotiators as has happened at previous rounds,” says Scott Harris, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians.
This is the first time since joining the TPP negotiations in October, 2012 that Canada will host a high-level round of the talks aimed at finalizing the controversial deal. Initially scheduled for Vancouver, the venue was shifted without explanation to Ottawa late last week.
The only information that has been publicly released is a one-sentence notice posted June 24 on the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development website stating that “Negotiators, subject matter experts and other officials will meet in Ottawa, Canada, from July 3-12. No ministerial meeting is being scheduled on the margin of the officials meeting in Ottawa.”
New Zealand law professor Jane Kelsey has attended many of the rounds as a registered stakeholder, and, when that process ended without any explanation, as an observer. She describes Canada's secrecy as “unprecedented.”
“There can only be one reason for withholding the details: to shut down the remaining minimal access we have to negotiators, a number of whom are happy to meet with us,” Kelsey says. “When governments are so afraid of informed public debate, they clearly do not believe they can sell the merits of what they are negotiating.”
On June 20, a range of civil society organizations based in Canada and Quebec sent a letter to Canada’s Chief Negotiator Kirsten Hillman, Trade Minister Ed Fast, and other officials requesting details of the arrangements for stakeholder engagement and briefings based on previous TPP rounds, but have received no response.
“It’s an embarrassment that instead of following in the footsteps of other host countries and facilitating an exchange of information between Canadian experts and the negotiators, Canada is instead making participation in the talks all but impossible,” says Scott Harris. “Even by the standards of secrecy we’ve come to expect from the TPP, this is extreme.”
The public has had no access to draft TPP texts since negotiations were launched in 2008, but leaks of key negotiating documents have revealed troubling details about the scope of the far-reaching agreement that, if completed, would encompass 40 per cent of the world’s GDP and one-third of global trade.
Scott Harris: 780-233-2528
Letter from civil society organizations requesting information on stakeholder engagement: http://canadians.org/sites/default/files/TPP_Ottawa_0614.pdf