An Australian parliamentary committee has issued a new report lambasting President Barack Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade accord for being too secretive and lacking adequate "oversight and scrutiny."
With U.S. Congress' approval of fast-track trade authority last week, the 12 countries in the proposed TPP are entering into the final stages of closed-door negotiations on what is expected to be the biggest-ever international trade pact, compromising 40 percent of global gross domestic product.
The joint-parliamentary report says that suspicions have been confirmed that "not is all right with the current" trade agreement process, because parliamentarians and other stakeholders are "kept in the dark during the negotiations when Australia's trading partners, including their industry stakeholders, have access under long-established and sensible arrangements," reported CNET.
As union and academic experts have warned, "the treaty-making process is in need of reform," the report says.
The "Blind Agreement" report says that because lawmakers are only allowed to officially review trade laws once they have officially passed, "Parliament is faced with an all-or-nothing choice" on whether to approve the accord.
U.S. congressional opponents of the TPP, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have expressed similar concern in recent weeks, even going so far as to call the agreement a multi-national corporate coup "at the expense of workers, consumers, the environment and the foundations of American democracy."
If a U.S. lawmaker wants to read the agreement, they have to go to classified briefings, go to a room in the basement of the Capitol Visitor Center and leave their cellphone at the door. Lawmakers will then be handed one section of the agreement at a time, watched over as they read and be forced to return any written notes before leaving. Then they are not allowed to talk about what they read, according to Politico.
The Australian Parliament report sympathized with their U.S. counterparts, saying, "This does not provide an adequate level of oversight and scrutiny."
"Parliament should play a constructive role during negotiations and not merely rubber-stamp agreements that have been negotiated behind closed doors."
With the passing of fast-track authority in the U.S. last week, which gives the president the authority to send the final trade agreement through Congress allowing for only up-or-down votes and no chance to propose amendments, critics fear that American lawmakers have also limited themselves to little more than a rubber-stamp role.
The text of the TPP has not yet been made public, though a few unverified chapters covering intellectual property, investment and copyright have been released by WikiLeaks.
Australian Senator Scott Ludlam of the Greens party, who helped draft the Parliament report, said that the leaked intellectual property chapter alone has the ability to "attack Internet freedoms and criminalize downloading."
"We know from a recent leak of the TPP Intellectual Property (IP) Chapter, that they're about to trade away access to affordable medications - a move that would affect every Australian," he wrote. "We know from other leaks the TPP covers everything from giving America the right to put Australian Internet users under surveillance, to giving multinational companies the rights to sue governments for the laws they make using dangerous Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses."
"Secrecy is no way to trade. We need to know what the government is preparing to trade away in our names."