Recap: TPP Stakeholder Events in Leesburg, VA

September 11, 2012 ,

On Sunday, dozens of non-profits, companies, and members of the public gathered in Leesburg, VA, to speak out about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) during the ongoing 14th round of negotiations. Public Knowledge attended the events, stressing to the negotiators the importance of copyright limitations and exceptions, and explaining how the TPP can be fixed to encourage those exceptions.

Stakeholder Presentations: Logistically Challenged

Many logistical challenges clouded the stakeholder events, accentuating the already acute problems of public participation. As others have reported, the USTR initially tried to squeeze public stakeholder presentations to just 8 minutes each for the Leesburg round. After many groups protested, the USTR expanded the time limit to 10 minutes, which is the same amount that stakeholders were given during the July negotiations in San Diego.

But 10 minutes is still not much time to explain all of the many problems with the copyright provisions in the TPP, and stakeholders are still forced to compete for negotiators’ attention. Once again the USTR had multiple presentations occurring at the same time, and the presentations were also simultaneous with the stakeholder tables event – where stakeholders could set up tables in hopes that negotiators to come to us and engage in discussion (think “science fair”).

The presentation space was also less conducive to formal presentations than the spaces stakeholders had in previous rounds. The rooms were much smaller this time, which meant that only 30 or so audience members could watch each presentation. Often I saw negotiators and stakeholders watching from just outside the doorway of the rooms. Also, because the rooms were so close together and their doors were all open, the noise from other rooms or the hallway sometimes distracted from the presenters, who did not have microphones.

But logistics aside, Public Knowledge presented to the copyright negotiators, explaining how the TPP can be changed to give countries the certainty they need to maintain or create particular limitations and exceptions to copyright, while also providing flexibility for countries to adapt their copyright laws for new technologies. A copy of the presentation is available here [pdf].

Stakeholder Tables: The TPP Science Fair

While Rashmi was presenting on copyright limitations and exceptions, I was staffing a table at the USTR’s stakeholder tabling event. As in the July negotiation round, the tabling event was held at the same time as the formal presentations, and this time they were even in a separate building from the presentations.

While there did seem to be many more stakeholders participating in this event compared to past rounds (including one coalition that projected the public’s comments on the wall at the Citizens Trade Campaign table), the fact that a separate stakeholder event was happening at the same time in another building meant that negotiators could only attend one event at once, and the long walk between buildings meant that switching back and forth frequently would have been a significant inconvenience.

For the next round, the hosting country should provide more time for stakeholder engagement than the mere 3 hours stakeholders have received in recent rounds, and the various stakeholder engagement events should be scheduled at different times so that stakeholders and negotiators alike are not forced to choose between events.

The same afternoon as the stakeholder forums, protestors gathered outside the resort where the negotiations are taking place to protest different chapters of the TPP (check out Public Knowledge’s photos of the rally here).

Stakeholder Briefing

Finally, the stakeholder events of the day wrapped up with a stakeholder briefing, in which the chief negotiators of eight of the nine TPP countries agreed to answer questions from registered stakeholders.

The event lasted for about 90 minutes, but the public received little new information from the negotiators. When Rashmi asked the US negotiator how transparency and stakeholder engagement will improve we received no answer, nor did the USTR specify when they plan to ask Congress for authority to negotiate the TPP. The US negotiator promised that stakeholder input has impacted the US’s proposals for the TPP, but it is impossible to verify that assertion without actual access to the text.

On the whole, the idea of these stakeholder engagement events is a good one, but the briefing is not very effective in the context of a trade agreement that is so locked down in secrecy that the negotiators do not actually answer any of the stakeholders’ substantive questions.

At the end of the day all of the stakeholder input in the world can never be a substitute for transparency. Real transparency, where information flows from the government to the people and back again. Until the US opens its proposals (or detailed positions) to the US public, it cannot say that it is letting the public meaningfully engage in the TPP process.