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The US Trade Representative (USTR) just recently announced that it will accommodate both formal presentations and less structured events for stakeholders in the next round of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. This is a promising step forward for the USTR's public engagement efforts, even though it cannot solve the serious problems caused by the lack of transparency in the TPP negotiations.
Combining the Best of Both Worlds
The next round of TPP negotiaitons are less than a month from now, and the USTR has begun releasing information for stakeholders to engage with negotiators. The USTR plans to host another stakeholder event, a la TPP Dallas, in which stakeholders can register for a table and speak directly with the negotiators who attend the event.
As we explained after attending a similar event in Dallas last month, there are advantages and disadvantages to stakeholder tables events and more formal stakeholder presentation forums. Which format works better for a particular stakeholder will depend on their resources, their familiarity with the negotiators, and the substance of their concerns about the TPP.
In Public Knowledge's feedback about the event, we suggested that the hosting country should hold both a formal presentation forum and a less structured tabling event, to better accommodated the various needs of different stakeholders. And now it seems the USTR is planning to do just that during the San Diego negotiations.
The USTR's stakeholder engagement website includes instructions both for registering for a stakeholder tables event and for making arrangements to make more formal presentations to negotiators. It's encouraging to see the USTR respond to stakeholder feedback so quickly and become more open to accommodating the needs of a variety of stakeholders.
The Elephant in the Room: Transparency
Of course, it must be said that all of the stakeholder engagement events in the world cannot make up for the shocking lack of transparency surrounding the substance of the negotiations and the TPP's text. Stakeholder events also cannot truly be effective if the negotiators are obviously not interested in hearing from public interest groups.
Transparency is a two-way street, and increasing the amount of information flowing from stakeholders to the government does not lessen the government's obligation to provide information about its activities and proposals to the public.
That said, the USTR's efforts to help stakeholders engage with negotiators and make their case before the negotiating countries is promising. Public Knowledge will continue to use every available opportunity to advocate for balanced copyright provisions in the TPP that will benefits consumers and innovative new companies.
For more information and TPP updates, visit our website www.tppinfo.org.