Today Public Knowledge participated in the US Trade Representative’s (USTR) stakeholder tabling event for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), where stakeholders could sign up to sit at a table in hopes that negotiators working on their issues would come by to discuss their concerns. This event differs from previous stakeholders forums, where stakeholders made formal presentations to groups of negotiators together. Public Knowledge has written before about the difference between the two types of stakeholder events.
Having now participated in both kinds of stakeholder events, we find that there are advantages and disadvantages to each. Whether one event is more effective than the other depends upon the particular stakeholder, how well they already know the negotiators, and the level of transparency in negotiations.
The stakeholder forums have the benefit of allowing stakeholders to express their concerns more completely to all of the negotiators at once. This way, all the negotiators have heard the same set of concerns. The forum is also helpful for public interest groups that are new to the negotiations and have never personally met the negotiators before to present their views.
The tabling event, which consisted of approximately 50 stakeholder tables arranged somewhat like a high school science fair (see below), provides an easy way for stakeholders to have one-on-one conversations with negotiators, but the structure of the event left it up to the negotiators to choose which stakeholders to visit. Stakeholders that are new to the TPP negotiations will have trouble knowing who is who, and which negotiators are working on the issues of importance to them.
The Public Knowledge table at the stakeholder event.
TPP stakeholders and negotiators.
At the Public Knowledge table, we spoke with negotiators from a wide variety of countries and a wide variety of substantive trade issues. Several negotiators from the US and USTR staff stopped by to talk and get feedback on how the event was going. Disappointingly, we were not visited by a single non-US intellectual property negotiator during the entire event, and it seemed that some may not have attended the event at all.
All in all, Public Knowledge is glad we participated in the event, despite it not being quite as fruitful as we had hoped. Perhaps the answer for future negotiation rounds is to combine a more formal event with a less structured tabling event for stakeholders, with both events being hosted by the negotiating countries or the host country. That way, negotiators can listen to presentations, learn what stakeholders are in attendance, and ask follow-up questions at the tabling event.
However, while Public Knowledge appreciates the opportunity to participate in these stakeholder events, none of this is an adequate substitute for making the TPP negotiations more transparent and open to public input. Both types of stakeholders events benefit greatly from transparency, because the stakeholders can give more relevant input to the negotiations if the stakeholders have access to recent texts to at least information about areas of negotiations.
The TPP threatens consequences to the general public that are simply too great to implement without thorough public engagement at every stage of the process. Going forward, Public Knowledge will continue to advocate both for transparency and for balanced copyright in the TPP.