“Once again, to the surprise of nobody, the anti-trade folks are demonstrating their skill at the art of the leak – find and make public documents that reveal government positions, exaggerate the significance of both the documents and the positions, attack the positions knowing that government cannot fully respond without breaching its own confidentiality rules, and then conclude that the entire agreement under negotiation is fatally flawed.
“It’s a clever strategy – although it has yet to be successful – because it puts government on the defensive, distracts the negotiators, and slows down the process, thereby creating more time for new attacks. Unfortunately, it badly distorts the debate and focuses it away from the real issues.
“First and most important, trade negotiating documents reflect each side’s positions. Do they agree? Of course not. If they did, there wouldn’t be anything to negotiate. Are they overstated? Of course they are. Governments take more extreme positions in order to give themselves maneuvering room as the process moves on. The negotiating process is about narrowing those differences, or in some cases it’s about acknowledging that differences cannot be reconciled and moving on to other topics. Making these documents public rarely produces surprises, since governments’ positions are generally well known.
“For example, see Public Citizen’s comment on the most recent Transatlantic Trade Partnership (TTIP) leak: ‘Taken in their entirety, the U.S. proposals are affirmatively hostile to the precautionary principle.’ There’s a surprise. The United States has opposed the precautionary principle in multiple fora for decades. It’s a Luddite affectation designed to disguise protectionism.”