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'Blind agreement' and closed-door deals: Report slams TPP negotiations

With sign-off on the Trans-Pacific Partnership edging closer and critics warning the deal could "choke" digital rights, an Australian Parliamentary review has slammed the negotiating process for a lack of oversight.

The TPP includes 12 countries around the Pacific Rim. Electronic Frontier Foundation

As a trade deal between the United States, Canada, Australia and their allies edges closer towards completion, an Australian Parliamentary report has slammed the deal-making process saying it lacks adequate "oversight and scrutiny."

The comments come from a joint Australian Parliamentary report on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is currently being negotiated behind closed doors between 12 countries across the Pacific Rim.

A massive trade deal encompassing more than a third of global GDP, the TPP has major implications for piracy, internet use and access to digital content worldwide, with the Electronic Frontiers Foundation saying it will "choke free speech, innovation, privacy and digital rights."

The Australian Parliamentary report covering the TPP and other Australian trade agreements warns that "not is all right with the current process" of deal-making and that politicians and key stakeholders are being "kept in the dark" on the negotiation process.

The "Blind Agreement" report also warns that under the current system, "Parliament is faced with an all-or-nothing choice" on whether or not to approve trade agreements and can only officially review trade laws once they've officially passed.

"This does not provide an adequate level of oversight and scrutiny," the report reads. "Parliament should play a constructive role during negotiations and not merely rubber-stamp agreements that have been negotiated behind closed doors."

Wikileaks has leaked a number of reported chapters of the TPP. Wikileaks

The full text of the TPP has not been made public, with only select unverified chapters surfacing through Wikileaks, including a chapter covering intellectual property and copyright.

Australian Senator Scott Ludlam, a member of the left-wing Australian Greens party and part of the committee that drafted the Blind Agreement report, has heavily criticised the secrecy of TPP negotiations saying this IP chapter alone has the power to "attack internet freedoms and criminalise downloading."

"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," said Senator Ludlam.

"Secrecy is no way to trade. We need to know what the government is preparing to trade away in our names."

Senator Ludlam's comments echo those of the EFF, which has been a strong critic of the TPP and says the agreement includes copyright provisions that "could make your Internet service provider spy on what you do online."

It's not just Australian politicians who have criticised the negotiation process, with US Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer recently taking to floor of the US Senate to explain the convoluted steps she needed to take to view the text of the massive trade agreement.

"Follow this: You can only take a few of your staffers who happen to have a security clearance, because, God knows why, this is secure, this is classified," she said.

"The guard says...'You can take notes, but you have to give them back to me, and I'll put them in a file.' So I said: 'Wait a minute. I'm going to take notes and then you're going to take my notes away from me and then you're going to have them in a file, and you can read my notes? Not on your life.'"

Despite such concerns over transparency, the US Senate last week voted to give President Barack Obama the power to "fast track" the TPP. This grants the President authority to put a final draft of the TPP before Congress for a 'yes-or-no' vote, but Congress will not have power to amend any part of the trade agreement.

Back in Australia, this kind of "all-or-nothing" approval was a key point of contention raised in the joint-Parliamentary report on the TPP.

But while the Australian committee examining the country's deal-making future has called for reform on this front, amongst a total of 10 recommendations, the TPP marches closer to completion with Australian Federal Trade Minister Andrew Robb saying less than a fortnight ago, "We are literally one week of negotiation away from completing this extraordinary deal."