Australia should be added to the growing list of countries that are either rejecting the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement or expressing serious doubts about it. The Australian Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, which conducted an extensive review of ACTA, has just released its report and it is cautioning against ratification for now, noting that “there appears a very real possibility that ACTA will not be ratified by sufficient countries in order to come into existence.” The committee found many shortcomings with the treaty. For example, on secrecy and the lack of transparency:
The most troubling aspect throughout the development of ACTA has been the opaque nature of the process. Whilst DFAT has stated that a certain level of confidentiality is required for trade negotiations, and while there is ground to enable a certain degree of secrecy where complex issues warrant negotiations in confidence, there is no valid rationale for the level of secrecy that DFAT has maintained for what is essentially a copyright treaty.
The report identifies a myriad of substantive question marks on the substance of ACTA and a serious absence of analysis or justifications for the agreement. In light of its many problems, it recommends holding off ratification for now:
It is prudent, therefore, that ACTA not be ratified by Australia until this Committee has received and considered the assessment of the economic and social benefits and costs of the Agreement, the Australian Government has issued the notice of clarification in relation to the terms of the treaty as recommended in this report and the ALRC has reported on its inquiry into Copyright and the Digital Economy. In considering its recommendation to ratify ACTA, a future Joint Standing Committee on Treaties should have regard to events related to ACTA in other relevant jurisdictions, including the EU and the US.
The ALRC report is not scheduled to be released until late 2013. Moreover, the recommendation to re-examine ACTA at a later date and have regard for developments in Europe and the U.S. suggest that defeat in Europe could influence the decision whether to ratify in Australia.