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Dec 11, 2013

Has Australia caved in on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

There are reports that Australia has given in to US demands for draconian copyright restrictions in Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, but the deal isn't signed yet.

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Trans-Pacific Partnership

There was mixed news from Singapore yesterday evening as the current negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership broke up without agreement — spoiling US hopes that a deal could be done before the end of 2013.

So far, so good, for what amounts to a remarkable attempt by the US government to impose draconian restrictions on intellectual property and the capacity of other governments to change policy, to suit US companies. But there are also reports that the Australian negotiating team, led by Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb, has caved in to US demands on intellectual property. Yesterday the US industry publication Washington Trade Daily told its subscribers, citing “participants familiar with proceedings”, that:

“Australia, New Zealand and Canada, among others, dropped their objections to the high-standard disciplines in intellectual property and came on board by agreeing to the modified text. Effectively, there is consensus on the intellectual property dossier except for one developing country …”

In fact the key debate on intellectual property, according to WTD, is no longer about resisting the demands of the US copyright cartel, but the transitional period for developing countries for the new requirements, with debate about how exactly the transition period will be measured for developing countries. “A final pact can be concluded after another two or three rounds,” WTD reported.

If Australia and other key players have acceded to US demands on IP, this represents a potential nightmarish imposition of new restrictions on copyright and pharmaceuticals. The US is demanding an extension of the already absurd 70 years copyright protection (basically designed to protect Mickey Mouse) and the criminalisation of filesharing and the requirement for ISPs to surveil their customers to enforce copyright, as well as extending protections for pharmaceutical companies to prevent the use of generic versions of medicines.

The report contrasts with evidence earlier this week via leaks to WikiLeaks and Huffington Post that Australia was holding the line on a number of the more draconian US copyright demands. “Australia in particular is standing firm,” Forbes reported based on the leaked document.

Yesterday ministers reported “substantial progress” after four days of negotiations in Singapore that “identified potential ‘landing zones’ for the majority of key outstanding issues in the text”, but there was no agreement. They will meet again in January. The US had been hoping for a treaty to be finalised by the end of this year. Any agricultural concessions the US makes (which are said to be driving Australia’s willingness to accede to US copyright demands) will be sensitive the closer we get to US congressional elections in November.

The US has demanded that participating countries keep the draft text secret while providing US corporations and industry groups like the copyright cartel have been given full access to the text, much more so than US senators. Those requirements have been slavishly followed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which has even excluded journalists from its pro forma “consultation” on the proposals. The government this week ruled out allowing the public, rather than corporations, to see the text before Andrew Robb signed up to it, meaning we may not know that Robb and DFAT have caved in on intellectual property until we’ve already signed on.

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