Are Trade Negotiators Really Up to No Good?

By | July 4, 2014

The Council of Canadians, the self-styled champion of the public interest, has blasted governments for their collective secrecy in the TPP negotiations being held in Ottawa July 3-12. They issued demands for access to TPP negotiating documents and, in effect, for virtual inclusion the TPP talks on an ongoing basis.

This is a standard ploy by the Council and its fellow-travellers, portraying governments as being up to no good and conspiring collectively to betray the interests of their people.

Happily, there was relatively scant take-up of this stuff in the media, indicating an ennui with this kind of rhetoric. On the contrary, the public in Canada and elsewhere are paying less attention to these overdrawn concerns and seem willing to let the TPP negotiators get on with their business.

Their business is to negotiate. And to do that effectively, you can’t do it in public. It would be destructive of that process to have negotiating texts released, and indeed the leakage that has occurred to date in the TPP talks has not been helpful.

What is bothersome with interest groups like the Council is the implication that governments are intent on evil doings and just can’t be trusted with looking after the public interest. They imply some secretive effort by the twelve TPP governments to sell down the river millions of their own people.

That is so much nonsense. The claim that governments are bent on betraying their people behind closed door is hyperbole that should be dismissed for what it is.

This is not to say that every aspect of the TPP talks should be completely shrouded in secrecy. Governments have a duty to be as transparent as possible, to explain what’s on the table and to respond to reasonable expectations on the part of the public.

But there is a balance to be struck, recognizing the nature of the negotiating process. And because that process is a delicate one, having texts released in public and having self-styled interest groups involved in the talks would be like bringing Clydesdales into a china store.