Democracy Needs Transparency

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Democracy Needs Transparency

'We need an open, transparent debate about these deals that puts people and the environment ahead of corporate interests.' (Image: Greenpeace)

I believe democracy needs transparency.

That’s why I was so excited when I heard that Greenpeace Netherlands was releasing to the public secret documents from the United States’ current trade negotiations with the European Union. The deal is called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP for short) and once it’s agreed upon it will govern the U.S.-European economic relationship for years.

You can check out the documents obtained by Greenpeace Netherlands here.

And what these leaked documents tell us is that right now it’s not looking like a good deal for the environment, democracy, or the public in general.

It’s also clear that U.S. negotiators have been consulting with industry behind closed doors. These secret negotiations for the TTIP put corporate interests ahead of the public and undermine basic principles of transparency and open debate that are fundamental to our democracy — just like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) did.

This has to stop. We need an open, transparent debate about these deals that puts people and the environment ahead of corporate interests. I’m calling on U.S. negotiators for the TTIP to stop these secret negotiations and for the U.S. Congress to reject the TPP.

The future of our food, our water, and our environmental safety should not be decided in secret by corporate interests.

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Greenpeace USA will be talking more about this in the days to come once we know more. But here’s a guide to some of the basics questions — also check out the comprehensive FAQ section put together by Greenpeace Netherlands.

What documents have been released?

The documents that Greenpeace Netherlands has released comprise about half of the draft text as of April 2016, prior to the start of the 13th round of TTIP negotiations between the EU and the United States (New York, April 25-29, 2016). As far as we know, the final document will consist of 25 to 30 chapters and many extensive annexes. The EU Commission published an overview stating that they have now 17 consolidated texts.

This means the documents released by Greenpeace Netherlands encompass three-fourths of the existing consolidated texts.

Consolidated texts are those where the EU and U.S. positions on issues are shown side by side. This step in the negotiation process allows us to see the areas where the EU and United States are close to agreement, and where compromises and concessions would still need to be made. Of the documents released by Greenpeace Netherlands — in total 248 pages — 13 chapters offer for the first time the position of the United States.

How have the documents been handled?

The documents we received had clearly been treated to make it possible to identify individual copies. Prior to release they have been retyped and identifying features removed. We have not altered content of the documents and have preserved the layout. For this reason we are not offering access to the original documents.

How do you know the documents are genuine?

After receiving the documents both Greenpeace Netherlands and Rechercheverbund NDR, WDR und Süddeutsche Zeitung, a renowned German investigative research partnership, have analyzed them and compared them to existing documents. The Rechercheverbund, which consists of different German media outlets, has covered, among other big stories, the Snowden leaks and the recent Volkswagen emissions scandals.

What are the first conclusions from the documents?

From an environmental and consumer protection point of view, four aspects are of serious concern.

  • Long-standing environmental protections appear to be dropped.
    None of the chapters we have seen reference the General Exceptions rule. This nearly 70-year-old rule enshrined in the GATT agreement of the World Trade Organization (WTO) allows nations to regulate trade “to protect human, animal and plant life or health” or for “the conservation of exhaustible natural resources.” The omission of this regulation suggests both sides are creating a regime that places profit ahead of human, animal and plant life and health.
  • Climate protection will be harder under TTIP.
    The Paris Climate Agreement makes one point clear: we must keep temperature increase under 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid a climate crisis with effects on billions of people worldwide. Trade should not be excluded from climate action. But nothing indicating climate protection can be found in the obtained texts. Even worse, the scope for mitigation measures is limited by provisions of the chapters on Regulatory Cooperation or Market Access for Industrial Goods. As an example these proposals would rule out regulating the import of carbon-intensive fuels such as oil from Tar Sands.
  • The end of the precautionary principle.
    The precautionary principle, enshrined in the EU Treaty, is not mentioned in the chapter on Regulatory Cooperation, nor in any other of the obtained 12 chapters. On the other hand, the U.S. demand for a ‘risk-based’ approach that aims to manage hazardous substances rather than avoid them, finds its way into various chapters. This approach undermines the ability of regulators to take preventive measures, for example regarding controversial substances like hormone disrupting chemicals.
  • Opening the door for corporate takeover.
    While the proposals threaten environmental and consumer protection, big business gets what it wants. Opportunities to participate in decision making are granted to corporations to intervene at the earliest stages of the decision making process.While civil society has had little access to the negotiations, there are many instances where the papers show that industry has been granted a privileged voice in important decisions. The leaked documents indicate that the EU has not been open about the high degree of industry influence. The EU’s recent public report has only one minor mention of industry input, whereas the leaked documents repeatedly talk about the need for further consultations with industry and explicitly mention how industry input has been collected.

Annie Leonard

Annie Leonard is the executive director of Greenpeace USA, founder of the Story of Stuff Project, and has spent more than twenty years investigating and organizing on environmental health and justice issues. In addition to the original short film, Story of Stuff,  she also created The Story of Cap & TradeThe Story of Cosmetics, The Story of Bottled Water, and The Story of Electronics.

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