ACTA Talks Set to Pick up Next Month
Negotiations toward the creation of an international agreement to combat counterfeiting and piracy will soon get a boost, as officials are set to meet in Morocco next month to work toward their stated goal of inking a deal by 2010, according to a joint statement released on Friday.
The negotiating countries say that existing rules on intellectual property enforcement allow the global black market to operate with relative impunity. To that end, they kicked off negotiations toward an Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA, a year ago, aiming to end commercial-scale piracy and counterfeiting. Australia, Canada, the EU, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, and the United States are all party to the talks.
Business leaders have welcomed the move. Mark Esper of the US Chamber of Commerce, which represents business interests, called the recent announcement "an important step forward" on an "urgent issue." Intellectual property theft "doesn't just affect businesses' bottom lines in the short term, but also discourages investment and innovation in the long term," he added.
But many in civil society have a different take on the negotiations. Thanks in large part to the scant amount of publicly available information, the ACTA talks have generated their share of controversy. Some groups fear that the negotiations are part of "an aggressive new agenda to expand and enforce intellectual property rights" - in the words of James Love, Director of Washington-based Knowledge Ecology International, or KEI. Such a push threatens to hinder access to affordable medicines and criminalise acts like non-commercial file sharing over the internet, they say.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration refused a freedom-of-information request for the release of a series of documents related to the talks (see Bridges Weekly, 18 March 2009, http://www.ictsd.org/bridges-news/bridges/news/obama-administration-denies-request-to-release-acta-docs). The president's trade office has since made public a ‘summary' of the negotiations to date, but that document has failed to satisfy many members of civil society, who say they want to see the fine print (see Bridges Weekly, 8 April, 2009 http://www.ictsd.org/bridges-news/bridges/news/ustr-releases-acta-‘summary’-civil-society-wants-more).
"This is big government and big business at its worst, creating rules without input or sensitivity to the concerns of consumers, over-riding civil rights, undermining privacy, increasing prices to consumers," KEI's Love said in a statement this week. "The topics under review...are big sweeping changes in our basic freedoms, and underhanded attempts to give lobbyists rules they can't get in a normal democratic setting," he added.
The United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk gave a nod to that criticism in a statement released on Friday.
"As we proceed with these negotiations, we will ensure that the public is kept well informed and has further opportunities to give input," he said.