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Expression of Disappointment – Lack of Transparency Goes Against Democracy

May 26, 2014

Expression of Disappointment – Lack of Transparency Goes Against Democracy

The undersigned digital rights, human rights, free expression and access to knowledge organizations, advocates, and experts are dedicated to ensuring that society strives for a balanced approach to intellectual property and e-commerce related rights and obligations, in order to foster opportunities for development, the free flow of information and access to knowledge and treatment, for the exercise of everyone’s rights.

With that common goal in mind, we express our deep disappointment with the announcement from the lead negotiators of the TTIP that their model  of transparency, developed during the Virginia Round of the TTIP this week, will only include meetings with stakeholders without text. These allowed for meetings will be brief only allowing 15 minutes for each stakeholders (8 minutes of a presentation and 7 minutes of Q&A). It is clear from the announcement that there are no plans to meet the goal releasing text on a rolling basis as demanded by the EU parliament during the ACTA in March 2010.

As expressed in a letter signed by more than XXX organizations, the European Commission has repeatedly stated that trade and investment between the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) are already highly integrated, and that the main focus of TTIP is to achieve regulatory convergence by removing so-called non-tariff barriers to trade. This means that the outcome of TTIP has much less to do with traditional trade issues such as tariffs, than with the regulations and standards that apply within the EU and the US. Whether it’s from the quality of the food we eat to the safety of chemicals we use, the energy we consume, or the impact of  financial services on each of us, this will impact every single aspect of citizens’ daily lives.

The creation of a stakeholder advisory group for the negotiations by the EU and the public interest advisory group (PITAC) in the US –  although an improvement compared to previous negotiations – is far from sufficient for making the process fully transparent or making the dialogue balanced. Members of these groups will have limited access to the negotiating texts under strict confidentiality rules, and these texts will still  remain hidden from the rest of interested civil society groups and citizens.

The US and EU have championed efforts for transparency in other fora and are founding members of the Open Government Partnership. In the US, there is unanimous bi-partisan support for allowing internet governance decisions to place in a multistakeholder community. Binding trade agreements that are being negotiated behind closed doors are a clear affront to the multistakeholder model and democratic process.

Furthermore, as mentioned in previous civil society manifestations, there are several examples of international negotiation processes, which provide a greater degree of openness to civil society than the negotiations on TTIP do, and whereby negotiating documents are disclosed. Examples include:

  • The World Trade Organisation (WTO): Even the WTO, which is regularly the subject of criticism from  civil society and member states, makes submissions, offers, and reports made by member states and committee chairs during negotiations available on its website.
  • The United Nations Framework for Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC): The negotiating texts and submissions from the participating parties are circulated before negotiations start. Observers, including  external stakeholders, attend the sessions and can provide submissions on request by the parties.
  • The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO): Draft negotiating documents are released throughout the process. Meetings are open to the public and webcasted.
  • The Aarhus Convention: Meetings of the governing body and its subsidiary bodies are public. Accredited observers can participate in party meetings and drafting groups to work in  collaboration with parties to develop text during the negotiations. These observers have the same speaking  rights as parties.

The choice of confidentiality sends a very different signal to society and puts into question the fundamental democratic values that TTIP negotiating parties foster and follow.  With this letter, we would like to restate our call for openness and public accountability of the TTIP negotiations. Without full transparency, there can be no meaningful engagement of civil society representatives in the process.