The almost Kafkaesque secrecy surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement — secret if you’re not a large US corporation that has been given privileged confidential access to the treaty drafts by US trade authorities — reached a new height yesterday. Australian MPs were offered access to the treaty on the basis that they didn’t take notes and wouldn’t reveal what they saw for four years.

Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson refused to accept the terms and was thus unable to view the document. He was correct to do so.

The TPP will almost certainly damage Australia’s interests. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which has carriage of the secret negotiation of the treaty and which has fiercely resisted the most basic transparency in relation to it, has previously negotiated trade outcomes that directly harm Australia. The Productivity Commission, for example, found that the intellectual property provisions of the Australia-US free trade agreement were economically harmful to Australia. DFAT cannot be trusted to negotiate on intellectual property matters. It has sold out Australia’s interests before and can be relied on to do so again. And then there is the potentially enormously damaging impact of investor-state dispute resolution mechanisms, which will empower multinational corporations to seek to block any change in government policy that deem to be problematic — as if the world’s biggest corporations didn’t already have enough influence over governments.

The secrecy surrounding this attack on Australia’s national interest is utterly unacceptable — and all the more so given corporations have been given access to drafts of the TPP. Politicians who agreed to the conditions of access have colluded in this secrecy.

Our best information on the TPP has come from WikiLeaks, which has provided three leaked copies of very segments of the draft text. At the moment, WikiLeaks is crowdsourcing a US$100,000 bounty for the current draft of the treaty. The WikiLeaks effort deserves support. The more this noxious treaty is exposed to scrutiny, the clearer it will be that it is inimical to the interests of countries like Australia.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey