Actors, musicians and other creatives in New Zealand are joining international voices calling for transparency in secret free-trade-agreement talks involving major nations and corporations: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The New Zealand artists last week expressed specific concern over potential curbs to Internet freedom and intellectual property rights. High-profile performers there are supporting calls for release of the international agreement’s draft text.
Protestors of the secret talks complain that participating governments and multi-national corporations are privy to the talks and text, but the public is being shut out. Those protestors are active throughout the world, including in the U.S. Senate. Some critics feel the secret talks are an effort to create a trade agreement that can supersede laws of individual nations.
In New Zealand last week, according to The New Zealand Herald:
The artists, including Don McGlashan, Julia Deans and Te Radar, have made a 60-second video which is appearing on electronic and social media and promotes an electronic petition for release of the TPPA’s text.
The artists are big names in New Zealand. McGlashan is a musician and songwriter who won fame with bands Blam Blam Blam, The Front Lawn, and The Mutton Birds. Singer-songwriter Deans is the well-known lead singer of rock bank Fur Patrol. Te Radar (Andrew J. Lumsden) is a popular comedian and television personality.
The Herald article went on to say:
Those involved join other New Zealanders concerned about a lack of transparency in negotiations between the Government and its overseas counterparts, including the United States.
“One of the things I love about democracy is that it is a conversation between us and our government,” said comedian Michele A’Court.
“It doesn’t work if our government doesn’t invite us into the conversation. At that point, it’s not democracy. It’s that other thing.”
You can read the Herald article, which includes the performers’ video, here.
Controversy has persisted in the U.S. over TPP’s secrecy. As far back as June 2012, four Democratic senators sent a letter to President Obama calling for greater congressional access to negotiations, expressing concern over the denial of information and involvement of major corporations. According to The Huffington Post‘s June 25, 2012 article:
Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) signed the letter, which asks that congressional offices be given access to draft negotiations among the United States and eight other Pacific nations. The four senators also asked that nonprofit groups advocating “Internet freedom” policies be given access to the documents.
The secrecy surrounding the Trans-Pacific deal has sparked a great deal of consternation among public health advocates, consumer groups and members of Congress. More than 600 representatives of corporations are able to view draft versions of the deal because of their positions on government advisory boards, while only a handful of nonprofit groups have the same privilege. Members of such boards are not permitted to share information about the documents with the public. Staff members from both Republican and Democratic congressional offices have also been denied access to the documents.
The senators’ letter read in part:
If Congress and the broader public are not informed of the exact terms of the agreement until the conclusion of the process, then the opportunity for meaningful input is lost. The lack of transparency and input makes passage of trade agreements more contentious and controversial.
Wyden also introduced legislation opposing Obama’s not sharing information on the talks.
The three-year-old TPP negotiations held a 19th round of talks in August. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, who takes part in the talks, issued a release on Aug. 30 reading in part:
A Ministerial meeting of the TPP countries – Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States and Vietnam – gave guidance to negotiators on achieving an ambitious and balanced 21st century agreement that will enhance trade and investment between them, promote innovation and competitiveness, economic growth and development, and support the creation and retention of jobs in their countries.
That’s about as specific as the release gets. Four days of “discussions” were held in Washington, D.C. in late September. A Trade Rep report from that meeting generally informed the public:
In some TPP chapters — including customs, telecommunications, sanitary and phytosanitary issues, technical barriers to trade, cross border services, and labor – progress toward conclusion was made on many issues and the 12 countries discussed how best to resolve other issues. Chief negotiators also discussed approaches for resolving challenges on e-commerce and legal and institutional issues. In addition, they met with the negotiating groups covering market access for goods and government procurement, which also convened this week to advance ambitious packages on goods, including industrial goods, agricultural products, and textiles, as well as government procurement. The U.S. also met with a number of other countries on the issue of state-owned enterprises.
Learn a lot from that paragraph, did you?