Behind Closed Doors: Secrecy and Transparency in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Negotiations

Sasha Maher


The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement has been mired in controversies about secrecy and the lack of transparency since the United States joined negotiations in 2010. Yet the content and impact of these disputes surrounding this new mega-regional trade agreement have not been explored. This article examines the role of secrecy in state formation by exploring the tension produced by the state’s deliberate withholding of Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiation texts from public circulation (“TPP secret”). Focusing on how the TPP secret unfolded in New Zealand, where the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade is the designated depository of the TPP texts and criticism is prolific, I draw on the New Zealand High Court case that was filed by TPP critics against the Minister of Trade and on other commentary in order to trace the characteristics of the transparency debate. The article argues that the the narrow focus of the debate on documents and procedures leaves critical questions about the militarisation of the Asia-Pacific and the security ambitions of the United States unanswered.


secrecy; state formation, free trade agreements, transparency, neo-liberalism

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