The Australian Government’s Productivity Commission, which is the government’s independent research and advisory body on a range of economic, social and environmental issues affecting the welfare of Australians, has released a new report on the impact of bilateral and regional trade agreements. The report, which contains some key lessons for Canada given our current trade negotiations activities with Europe, India, and South American countries, warns against the inclusion of intellectual property within these trade agreements. The report concludes:
The Commission considers that Australia should not generally seek to include IP provisions in further BRTAs, and that any IP provisions that are proposed for a particular agreement should only be included after an economic assessment of the impacts, including on consumers, in Australia and partner countries. To safeguard against the prospect that acceptance of â€˜negative sum game’ proposals, the assessment would need to find that implementing the provisions would likely generate overall net benefits for members of the agreement.
The report includes a detailed discussion of ACTA-like agreements that emphasize cooperation, information sharing, and enforcement activities. It notes what should be obvious to many participating countries, including Canada – “most of the benefits to IP rights holders from measures to promote adherence to existing rules in partner countries can be expected to accrue to third parties, such as rights holders in the United States.”
Moreover, the report also highlights a crucial issue for countries like Australia and Canada – there is limited or no economic analysis of the benefits of IP provisions, which is crucial for countries that are net importers of copyright. I’ve written on several occasions on how Canada, like most countries, is a net importer. The report states:
The Commission is not convinced, however, that the approach adopted by Australia in relation to IP in trade agreements has always been in the best interests of either Australia or (most of) its trading partners. Among other things, there does not appear to have been any economic analysis of the specific provisions in AUSFTA undertaken prior to the finalisation of negotiations, nor incorporated in the government’s supporting documentation to the parliament. As noted above, the AUSFTA changes to copyright imposed net costs on Australia, and extending these changes to other countries would be expected to impose net costs on them, principally to the benefit of third parties.
The report’s recommendations are not binding on the government, but do require a specific government response on whether they are accepted or rejected. The report comes just as leaked documents show that U.S. lobby groups are seeking inclusion ACTA+ provisions for the Trans Pacific Partnership, a regional trade deal that currently excludes Canada.