The opposition lobby on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPPA) and some media outlets were momentarily excited over the weekend at the news that secrecy on the trade negotiations had been lifted and a full text of the current agreement was about to be released.
“The nine parties to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPPA) negotiations have made a dramatic and unexpected u-turn, agreeing to lift the veil of secrecy on their draft texts and background documents,” said a release distributed on Sunday, bylined by Sam Huggard of NZ lobby TPP Watch.
“Critics of the obsessive secrecy that surrounds the negotiations hailed the decision as a triumph for democracy,” said the announcement,” attributing the turnaround to an amendment tabled in the US Congress by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden.
Unfortunately for the opposition lobby, the date on Sunday was April 1. It quickly became apparent that the story was an April Fools joke and there is to be no release of TPPA documents.
The secrecy surrounding negotiations is traditional for international agreements, and has been widely criticised. Opponents such as Auckland University lecturer Dr Jane Kelsey have called for release and public discussion as a precondition to New Zealand’s participation.
The lobby for release of the text of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) in 2010 did eventually force release of the text.
Wyden did actually table an amendment to the JOBS [Jumpstart our Business Startups] Act last month, asking for the veil of secrecy specifically on the internet-related intellectual property provisions of the TPPA to be lifted, but under tight time pressure, it was not considered.
The spurious release quoted from Computerworld, reporting Trade Minister Tim Groser’s statement that: “New Zealand will never release texts without the agreement of our negotiating partners - end of story.” Against all expectations, it said, Congress had now decided to observe “The Dracula principle” – letting sunlight into the negotiations.
It was not to be; the darkness still remains.
As at noon on Monday, the TPP Watch site still carried the announcement, but media websites who fell into the trap had either withdrawn it completely or added a note explaining that it was a hoax.