UK Government Blocks Public Access to TTIP Documents

While the public has access to trade agreement texts such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TTP) and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), one trade deal has been particularly elusive: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). While the full text is still being withheld from the public, the agreement was the center of a fresh round of controversy as the UK government denied access to legal documents surrounding the agreement.

TTIP is one of the more elusive trade deals out there. It is so elusive, Wikileaks describes the agreement as “hyper secret” along with the Trades in Services Agreement (TiSA). Since last August, Wikileaks has put out a €100,000 reward for the release of the agreement. To this date, that reward has remained unclaimed.

While not a lot is publicly known about the agreement, there have been rumors that corporate interests have tried to insert SOPA and PIPA provisions into the agreement (provisions that were resoundingly rejected by the American public in the past).

In spite of the obstacles, opponents of TTIP haven’t stopped working trying to unearth any scraps of information they can get their hands on. In the UK, a freedom of information request was filed regarding apparent legal documents that discussed whether private health companies could sue the public health care system under the agreement. According to the Guardian, that legal request was denied:

The business secretary, Sajid Javid, said in answer to a freedom of information request that disclosing the legal documents would make civil servants cautious when they “need space in which to seek candid advice from their lawyers”.

He said: “They are less likely to seek such advice if there is an expectation that it will subsequently be disclosable.”

But Global Justice Now, which has campaigned for greater transparency in trade negotiations, said the decision would fuel concerns that NHS trusts could come under attack from private contractors using the ISDS (investor state dispute settlement) tribunal system.

Nick Dearden, the charity’s director, said: “If this trade deal is supposed to benefit all of us, why has it been so secretive? The documents we have seen so far have mostly come from Wikileaks or after intense pressure from campaign groups.

From a holistic perspective, the decision to keep things secret for this particular agreement does make sense. When the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) was brought to light, it sparked widespread opposition over what was in the agreement. The protests even made it to the legislative level as some politicians actively protested against the agreement. The result was that the agreement disintegrated and became dead in the water after public backlash. Similar stories could be said for currently active agreements such as TTP and CETA. Now that the public knows what is in those agreements, there have been widespread opposition to those agreements. Currently, there is pressure from all sides for countries to abandon those agreements as they have less to do with trade and more to do with lawmaking that simply benefits major corporations.

It is certainly possible that US and European negotiators see the pattern and have chosen to do everything in their power to keep this particular agreement under wraps. When the protests happen, the easy thing is to say that people don’t know what is in the agreement, so they have nothing to protest over. Meanwhile, opposition can simply say that if the agreement is so great, why keep it a secret. The debate remains deadlocked. Perhaps a deadlocked debate might seem like the best chance to get this agreement passed as far as proponents of the agreement are concerned. It’s unlikely they want a repeat of ACTA after all.

Still, with the possibility of SOPA-like provisions being in the agreement, that will certainly give us reasons to further monitor the situation.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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