Apparel Sourcing Intelligence - Worldwide

How secrecy’s killing the trade deals

Why is the TPP (and with it the TTIP and the TiSA) so close to death?

In a June 17 Sourcing Journal article I argued that their obsession with secrecy lay at the heart of their problems and must be dealt with in all future negotiations.

Most buyers and sellers assume confidentiality is essential in any negotiation, and most assume the haggling in deals like the TPP or TTIP should stay confidential until negotiators reach a conclusion they can offer their legislatures for approval.

But there’s a huge difference between the confidentiality essential to commercial negotiation, the claims official trade negotiators are making about confidentiality and what’s emerging in the leaks pouring out of TPP, TiSA and TTIP negotiations.

  • Legitimate confidentiality. We’re all used to the “You want a 10 percent cut, but 5 percent is my last offer” haggling of negotiations, and I imagine almost all readers of this Blog and of Sourcing Journal understand this haggling has to stay confidential
  • What governments are saying. One argument from supporters of the secrecy around TPP/TTIP is that “We would put the US at a disadvantage if we were to hand over our ‘playbook’ “ But playbooks (each side’s negotiating tactics)  aren’t in these deals’ draft texts – which is what the fuss is all about. Each country keeps its tactics to itself: the texts currently being kept confidential are those proposals more or less agreed by everyone. 
  • The secrecy that’s upsetting people. What’s coming out in the leaks  – and worrying people – aren’t the details of offers and counter-offers, but items on agendas many think shouldn’t be there at all. For example:
    • In the TPP, rules preventing government healthcare agencies from proper negotiations with pharmaceutical suppliers
    • Proposals in the TPP for a Trans-Pacific Commission to act as a secretariat for the TPP’s day-to-day management
    • Proposals in the TiSA for harmonised immigration rules across 50 countries
    • Proposals in the TTIP and TPP for a dispute resolution system allowing investors to sue governments in multinational courts

Each of these proposals in the leaks touches on political hot potatoes. We  may not know what the eventual agreement is going to be – but many people around the world assume they’re being kept secret because something nasty’s being planned.

I suspect most of these proposals are being kept secret because negotiators realise they’re hot potatoes and want to present them persuasively. But the very fact they’re secret more or less kills their ability to be revealed without sparking off huge hostility.

In the article, I argue that the damage is now done and that it makes the eventual approval of agreed deals by all the legislatures almost impossible.

These projects were meant to be “21st century deals.” I think they’re going to fail because those driving them simply don’t realise that you can’t drive 21st century deals if your mind’s still stuck in 19th century diplomacy.

Any ten year old could tell you that sticking “secret” on anything guarantees it’ll be on Facebook in ten minutes.

These deals could have done with a few more 10 year olds.