One of the most compelling arguments of groups opposed to free trade concerns the lack of public transparency and perceived secrecy associated with the closed-door trade negotiation process. As Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren has stressed, “If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the U.S.”
In Europe, where mounting opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) has been increasingly outspoken of late, EU officials have responded by making what can best be described as token efforts to foster the pretense of “transparency” and public involvement in the trade talks. One example of such a gesture is the upcoming “Outreach” event scheduled for November 4 at the Charlemagne Building in Brussels to update the public on the latest TTIP developments.
The two-hour meeting will feature the EU’s Deputy Chief Negotiator talking “first-hand about progress made during the seventh round of negotiations and plans for the months ahead.” The event’s agenda indicates this will be followed by an “open discussion with stakeholders” – which in this case involves a growing list of registrants representing an incredibly diverse range of civil society organizations, small business associations and special interest lobby groups.
Adequately addressing the various concerns of all those in attendance within the limited time allotted for “discussion” about the specific terms and potential ramifications of an unseen trade policy document would appear to be a highly unlikely outcome. Meanwhile, though, hundreds of “trade advisors” – almost exclusively representing the interests of transnational corporations – already have access to pertinent draft texts of the TTIP and, presumably, are actively influencing how the trade pact will ultimately be shaped. Little wonder that TTIP critics and concerned citizens left impotently watching from the sidelines are so deeply vexed by this seemingly egregious double-standard when it comes to the matter of transparency.