Global intellectual property (IP) legislation continues to be negotiated behind closed doors this week in Singapore where discussions are underway on a secretive international trade treaty that could have far-reaching effects on Internet services, copyright law and civil liberties.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement aims to enhance trade and investments, promote innovation and help economic growth among 12 trans-Pacific countries: the US, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
The negotiations, however, are covered in secrecy. Anyone not closely connected to the talks is being kept in the dark about the exact proposals being discussed. The Australian government, for instance, refused to give the Senate access to the secret text of the draft treaty being negotiated in a final round of talks in Singapore, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Monday. The results of the negotiations will only be made public after the treaty has been signed, the Australian government said, according to the paper.
But texts of purported drafts of the treaty have been leaked to the public, most recently on Monday by Wikileaks, which published two documents said to show the state of negotiations after talks held in Salt Lake City from Nov. 19 to 24.
One of the documents shows that the US exerted "great pressure to close as many subjects" as possible during the meet. The chief US negotiator, whose name was redacted from the document by Wikileaks, has met with all 12 countries saying they were not progressing according to plan. However, that's because of a lack of substantial progress by the US, according to one of the countries, which was not identified in the document.
Even leaving aside the most difficult subjects such as IP and the environment, the situation after the November negotiations made it "very difficult to think of a complete closure in December," according to the document. Some have suggested preparing different scenarios that involve being prepared for a partial closure of the treaty or even a failure during the current talks in Singapore, the document showed.
The other leaked document highlighted the many differences between the countries on numerous topics, with 19 disputed topics in the area of IP alone. Among them are patentability criteria and the supplementary protection of patents, as well as a US proposal on the length of time a copyright should be protected.
The substantial list of disputed points suggests that the TPP negotiations will be successful only if Asia-Pacific countries back down on key national interest issues, otherwise the treaty will fail altogether, said Wikileaks in an accompanying note.
The IP chapter is also worrisome to others. Joseph Stiglitz, an economist, Nobel Prize winner and professor at the Columbia University School of Business, asked negotiators in an open letter sent Friday to resist proposals to weaken consumer rights in intellectual property. The letter was published by Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), a group lobbying for fairer distribution of information, which has taken a close interest in the TPP and was also concerned by the contents of the leaked treaty draft.
Negotiators should resist mandating extensions of patents terms, narrowing the grounds for granting compulsory license on patents and increasing damages for infringements of patents and copyrights, Stiglitz wrote. Moreover, they should also oppose mandating excessive enforcement measures for digital information and requiring more than 70 years of copyright protection, among other proposals, Stiglitz wrote.
Those measures are not needed, he wrote.
"The TPP proposes to freeze into a binding trade agreement many of the worst features of the worst laws in the TPP countries, making needed reforms extremely difficult if not impossible," he said.
The negotiations are in their final stages and a possible deal might be announced when the Singapore meeting concludes. The TPP Ministers will be meeting through Tuesday, according to the office of the Australian Minister of Trade and Investment.
Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to [email protected]