Over the last year or two, critics of trade agreements have stepped up their attacks on the “secrecy” of trade negotiations. Discussing these agreements behind closed doors, or only with corporate advisers, they argue, undermines democracy and the rule of law.In the past, I have suggested that an emphasis on transparency is misplaced. A bit of secrecy is necessary for trade negotiations, I said; and anyway, we know much of the substance, and that’s where the debate should be. I called on critics to focus on the policy issues covered by these agreements, rather than obsess about transparency.But continued leaks of draft chapters of the Trans Pacific Partnership TPP agreement have changed things. As these leaks have come out, critics have engaged with the substance in great detail. While some of their rhetoric is inflammatory and over the top, they clearly understand the issues and they make strong arguments against some of the current language, particularly in the area of intellectual property.Unfortunately, the U.S. government is not responding in kind. That’s not to say it is being completely silent. However, the explanations of U.S. negotiating objectives are sometimes very superficial. The result is a one-sided debate. Critics are criticizing; the government is mostly keeping its head down.
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