USTR Releases ACTA ‘Summary’, Civil Society Wants More
The office of the US Trade Representative has released new information on ongoing negotiations toward a plurilateral agreement to combat piracy and counterfeiting. But members of civil society say that the USTR’s ‘summary’ of the talks does not quell their fears that such an agreement could ultimately hinder access to affordable medicines and criminalise acts like non-commercial file sharing.
Negotiations toward an Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA, started in earnest in June of last year with the aim of stopping piracy and counterfeiting that is being conducted on a commercial scale. Governments involved in the talks say that those involved in the underground economy are able to act with relative impunity because existing rules on intellectual property enforcement are not sufficient. Australia, Canada, the EU, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and the United States are all participating in the talks.
Concerned about the implications of such an agreement, public health groups and generic drug makers have fought to see the latest negotiating texts, but so far governments have been relatively tight lipped. Last month, the USTR denied an official request that ACTA documents be released to the public, citing national security concerns (see Bridges Weekly, 18 March 2009, http://www.ictsd.org/bridges-news/bridges/news/obama-administration-denies-request-to-release-acta-docs).
In the newly released six-page summary of the talks (available here: http://www.ustr.gov/assets/Document_Library/Fact_Sheets/2009/asset_upload_file917_15546.pdf), the USTR offers an explanation: “it is accepted practice during trade negotiations among sovereign states to not share negotiating texts with the public at large, particularly at earlier stages of the negotiation,” the document says.
But James Love, the Director of Knowledge Ecology International, a Washington-based NGO, says he is not satisfied. "The document from USTR is more PR than disclosure. People need to see the text. USTR still says we cannot see text,” Love says.
Writing on the blog Wired, David Kravets said the document lacked substance. The release of the summary “did nothing to assuage concerns that the proposed act...would require [internet service providers] to terminate repeat copyright scofflaws, criminalise peer-to-peer file sharing, subject iPods to border searches and even interfere with the legitimate sale of brand-name pharmaceutical products,” Kravets wrote.
But the USTR document maintains that a new agreement is needed to counter piracy, and vows that ACTA will respect existing international rules on intellectual property and public health.
“The intended focus is on counterfeiting and piracy activities that significantly affect commercial interests, rather than on the activities of ordinary citizens,” the document says. “ACTA is not intended to interfere with a signatory’s ability to respect its citizens’ fundamental rights and civil liberties.”
"The ACTA summary provides the opportunity for the public to understand the parameters of the ongoing negotiation," USTR spokeswoman Nefeterius McPherson said. "The governments engaged in the negotiation are not prepared to release ACTA text at this time, but this was a good first step – and we are continuing to evaluate our practices and seek to maximise transparency in a way that works with our mission as established by Congress and the President."
A similar transparency push has come from the other side of the Atlantic. The directorate general for trade at the European Commission announced that it will hold a meeting in Brussels on 21 April to inform interested parties of the concept, purpose, and process of the negotiations. “A detailed written state-of-play of the negotiations” would be available at the meeting and EU officials would take comments from the audience, a Commission document said.