What should be transparent in trade and treaty negotiations?

KEI doing work on the transparency of global trade and treaty negotiations, particularly but not exclusively as relates to IPR negotiations.

One area that has received attention recently (after a year of complaints), seems to be recent USTR denial of access to the negotiating texts of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which is basically an IPR enforcement agreement only marginally related to the emotive title, “counterfeits.”

See:
http://www.keionline.org/blogs/tag/acta/
http://www.keionline.org/blogs/2009/03/14/some-news-stories-on-acta-foia/

What attracted the most attention in the ACTA story, by far, was the contrast between USTR claiming the documents are “information that is properly classified in the interest of national security pursuant to Executive Order 12958,” on the one hand, (http://www.keionline.org/blogs/2009/03/12/acta-state-secret/) and then allowing hundreds of corporate lobbyists, lawyers and PR agents to have access to the documents, as “cleared advisors.” (http://www.keionline.org/blogs/2009/03/13/who-are-cleared-advisors/).

There is also a debate in Europe, Canada and some other countries over the appropriate transparency of the ACTA negotiations.

Right now USTR won’t even release names of the participants at the negotiations, let alone the various non-papers and papers on text for the agreement.

In addition to the many bloggers writting about this topic, several groups, including KEI, Consumers Union, Essential Action, EFF, Public Knowledge, have been pressing the USTR and the White House to open things up. (EFF and PK are also litigating this issue). Michael Geist is undertaking a major effort on this front in Canada, and several NGOs and MEPs in Europe are focusing on this also.

KEI has recently written the White House, asking that a new policy be adopted with respect to ACTA, that includes four fairly basic areas of greater transparency:

1. Disclosure of all negotiating texts and policy papers
2. Disclosure of all meeting agenda (as soon as they are available), and participant lists, as is common at multilateral institutions.
3. Accreditation of civil society NGOs to attend meetings, as is common at multilateral institutions.
4. Public consultations and comment periods, including those that accept comments to web based forums.

I’m not sure if this is the best “ask” in terms of transparency, and we have suggested to other NGOs that we formulate a joint position on the transparency of the ACTA negotiations. We also want to develop a more coherent ask for transparency of the various bilateral trade negotiations currently undertaken by the US, EU and many other trading partners (See Bilaterals.Org for an impressive list of such negotiations).

I think we are at a point where we need to think more systematically about issues of transparency, to deal with the growing democracy deficit in global norm setting. Suggestions to the appropriate policies on transparency are appreciated. James Love (james dot love at keionline.org)