COLUMBUS, Ohio — WHEN WikiLeaks recently released a chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, critics and proponents of the deal resumed wrestling over its complicated contents. But a cover page of the leaked document points to a different problem: It announces that the draft text is classified by the United States government. Even if current negotiations over the trade agreement end with no deal, the draft chapter will still remain classified for four years as national security information. The initial version of an agreement projected by the government to affect millions of Americans will remain a secret until long after meaningful public debate is possible.
National security secrecy may be appropriate to protect us from our enemies; it should not be used to protect our politicians from us. For an administration that paints itself as dedicated to transparency and public input, the insistence on extensive secrecy in trade is disappointing and disingenuous. And the secrecy of trade negotiations does not just hide information from the public. It creates a funnel where powerful interests congregate, absent the checks, balances and necessary hurdles of the democratic process.
Free-trade agreements are not just about imports, tariffs or overseas jobs. Agreements bring complex national regulatory systems together, such as intellectual property law, with implications for free speech, privacy and public health.