A separate independent review should assess the Australian government processes for establishing negotiating mandates to incorporate intellectual property provisions in international trade agreements. Trade negotiations should be informed by an independent and transparent analysis of the costs and benefits to Australia of any proposed intellectual property provisions. Such an analysis should be undertaken and published before negotiations are concluded. There’s one recommendation from the Harper competition policy review that the government is already ignoring — indeed, treating with contempt — on intellectual property and free trade agreements.
There’s now a clear consensus among Australia’s independent competition bodies, that Australia has acted against its own interests in the past in caving in to US demands on intellectual property in free trade agreements. It was the Productivity Commission — which has explored in detail how pointless much-vaunted “free trade agreements” actually are — that first argued that the IP provisions of the Australia-US free trade agreement (a completely inapt name, but we’ll stick with it) were damaging to Australia. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission told the Harper review it “considers that caution should be exercised when entering international treaties or agreements that may have the effect of significantly limiting the ability of the Australian Government to make substantial and effective reforms to IP regulation.”
Harper and his fellow panellists agreed, concluding, “trade negotiations must be based on an understanding of the costs and benefits to Australia of proposed IP provisions. This should be undertaken in an independent and transparent way and prior to negotiations being concluded” (my italics). They recommended that, in addition to the PC being asked to undertake a “12-month, framework-style review of intellectual property”:
“A separate independent review should assess the Australian Government processes for establishing negotiating mandates to incorporate intellectual property provisions in international trade agreements. Trade negotiations should be informed by an independent and transparent analysis of the costs and benefits to Australia of any proposed intellectual property provisions. Such an analysis should be undertaken and published before negotiations are concluded.”
The recommendation should come as no surprise — the same recommendation appeared word for word in the September draft report. But the government is treating it with contempt. Its negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership has been conducted in near-total secrecy (as it was under Labor, although since losing government, Labor has hypocritically begun demanding the release of the draft agreement), with only large corporations consulted on drafts, while the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has actually banned journalists from attending its “briefings”. Thankfully, WikiLeaks has been able to provide texts of draft chapters such as the one on intellectual property, but Trade Minister Andrew Robb has refused to address concerns raised by the leaked drafts and tried to dismiss them as scaremongering, even as it becomes clear that the Abbott government has fallen into line with US demands to lengthen and strengthen copyright laws at the behest of the mostly US-based copyright cartel.
Now the government’s own competition review has, in effect, slammed this obsessive secrecy, calling for a full public analysis of what DFAT have given away on intellectual property before Australia signs up to the TPP. And it has two of Australia’s most highly regarded economic agencies, the ACCC and the PC, on its side.
If DFAT’s overpaid trade diplomats aren’t willing to have their handiwork subjected to independent analysis, there’s only one possible reason: they’re once again preparing to damage Australia’s economic interests, as they did with the Australia-US FTA.