The Standing Committee on International Trade released its long awaited report on the Trans Pacific Partnership yesterday, the result of months of hearings and public consultation. The TPP committee review represented the Liberal government’s most tangible mechanism to consult with the public on an agreement it did not negotiate and that suffered from a lack of transparency throughout the negotiation process. Along the way, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States and moved quickly to withdraw from the TPP. The resulting report is therefore anti-climatic, since the agreement is effectively dead.
Nevertheless, the 113 page report provides a record of the many witnesses that appeared before the committee and places all three political parties on the record. Much of the report identifies the controversial issues – intellectual property, dispute settlement, trade in services among them – and recounts the differing views. The report leaves little doubt about the public divide on the TPP, noting support from some (though not all) business groups and opposition from many public interest groups. For example, the report notes that the intellectual property chapter was among the issues most raised before the committee, particularly the patent provisions and copyright term extension. It highlights not only comments before the committee (including my own), but also briefs submitted to the committee, including one from the Girl Guides of Canada, who expressed concerns with copyright term extension.
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Canada’s business community has mobilized in recent weeks to call on the government to adopt a more aggressive, engaged approach with respect to the biggest trade negotiations on the planet – the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. The TPP involves 12 countries including the United States, Australia, Mexico, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Vietnam, Brunei, Japan, Peru, and Chile.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that negotiators insist that progress is being made, but some in the business community are concerned that Canada may be left out of the deal unless it makes significant concessions on market access (including the dismantling of supply management in several agricultural sectors), restrictive intellectual property protections, and investor-state dispute settlement rules that allow companies to sue governments and potentially trump national courts.
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Today’s leak of country-by-country positions on the Trans Pacific Partnership reveals the strong isolation of the U.S. on many intellectual property issues and the wide ranging Canadian opposition to many U.S. proposals. With International Trade Minister Ed Fast heading to Singapore for a ministerial round of negotiations, Canada is apparently far apart from the U.S. on many key issues. The areas of disagreement run throughout the IP chapter and include positions on copyright term, digital locks, criminalization of copyright, parallel imports, patents, trademark scope, pharmaceutical protection, and geographical indications. Moreover, there is a notable disagreement on a cultural exception, which Canada wants but the U.S. does not.
A look at the areas of disagreement from the Huffington Post leak:
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Wikileaks released an updated version of the secret Trans Pacific Partnership intellectual property chapter this morning (background on the TPP from my appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade earlier this year). The leaked text, which runs 95 pages in length and is current to August 2013, provides a detailed look not only at the chapter – it includes the full text – but also the specific positions being taken by all negotiating countries.
From a Canadian perspective, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that Canada is pushing back against many U.S. demands by promoting provisions that are consistent with current Canadian law. Canada is often joined by New Zealand, Malaysia, Mexico, Chile, Vietnam, Peru, and Brunei Darussalam. Japan and Singapore are part of this same group on many issues. Interestingly, Canada has also promoted Canadian-specific solutions on many issues. The bad news is that the U.S. – often joined by Australia – is demanding that Canada rollback its recent copyright reform legislation with a long list of draconian proposals.
It is instructive to see how different the objectives of the U.S. are on intellectual property when compared to virtually all other countries. With the exception of the U.S., Japan, and Australia, all other TPP countries have proposed an objectives article (Article QQ.A.2) that references the need for balance, promotion of the public domain, protection of public health, and measures to ensure that IP rights themselves do not become barriers to trade. The opposition to these objective by the U.S. and Japan (Australia has not taken a position) speaks volumes about their goals for the TPP.
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Earlier this week, I was invited to appear before the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade to discuss the benefits of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade agreement involving the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and a handful of other Asian and South American countries. My comments were critical of the proposed agreement as I focused on two issues: copyright and secrecy. The opening comments sparked a lively debate, with the NDP MPs tabling documents I obtained under the Access to Information Act detailing inside access to TPP information for select stakeholders and the Conservative MPs alternately questioning the validity of leaked texts and providing assurances that draft text could change before the final agreement is concluded. I’ll post the transcript once it is available. In the meantime, my opening remarks are posted below.
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