Molly Schwartz | Free Trade Doesn’t Have to Be a Trade Secret

Molly Schwartz, R Street via Real Clear Policy:

Secrecy around the conduct of international trade agreements has been tightening, in what amounts to a disturbing and counterproductive trend. This lack of transparency gives additional fodder to groups motivated to fight globalization and puts off groups who, in other circumstances, would be vocal supporters of the cause of free trade.

Texts of the ongoing Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations between the United States and 11 other Asia-Pacific countries have been secreted behind closed doors in a way that, according to experienced trade adviser Michael Wessel’s harshly critical Politico article, is unprecedented in past trade deals, such as NAFTA or KORUS. It’s created an ongoing game of information cat-and-mouse that makes WikiLeaks, by default, the most reliable source of trade news. It’s even spawned a politically charged gag website that went viral on social media.

It’s the Streisand effect, Intense efforts to keep the trade deal secret are only drawing more, mostly negative, attention. Even parties who might be supportive of its contents have become vocal critics of the opaque negotiation process. It’s difficult to support something you don’t know anything about.

According to the leaked documents, there are legitimate reasons for concern. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has closely tracked and explained the ways TPP would strengthen copyright protections, against the interests of users. It appears there are provisions to criminalize circumvention of digital rights management, to hold digital intermediaries liable for copyright infringements and to restrict fair use.

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