Harper Government Highlights Widespread Benefits to British Columbia of Historic Canada-EU Trade Agreement by DFATD | MAECD (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/hnn8jC
The Canadian government has characterized the proposed trade agreement between Canada and the European Union (CETA) is its top trade priority. The deal would increase trade by removing tariffs from many products, but also create significant costs. The implications for digital and intellectual property issues are particularly important, with chapters on e-commerce and telecommunications services, an extension of patent protections for pharmaceutical drugs could raise health care costs by millions of dollars, and protections for hundreds of geographical indications may restrict Canadian producers of common cheeses, wines, and meats.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the substance of CETA merits debate, but its most distinguishing feature during the seven years of negotiations has been the steady stream of unrealistic claims from Canadian officials about how close they are to concluding the deal.
As the Canada – EU Trade Agreement faces mounting opposition in Europe, it is worth looking back at the late stages of CETA negotiations that occurred after an October 2013 announcement that a deal had been reached. That announcement did not include a release of the text, which was still the subject of months of negotiations. In fact, long after the initial announcement, there were reports that European concerns with investor-state dispute settlement provisions were about to derail the entire agreement. By July 2014, it was obvious that CETA was in jeopardy. In August 2014, there were more assurances from the Canadian government about an agreement, but still no text. That same month, the agreement finally did become public, but only after a German public television leaked it online.
Documents obtained under the Access to Information Act show that Canadian government officials scrambled to respond. While the official line will be familiar – “Canada does not comment on the leaks of purported negotiating texts” – internally, officials were left scrambling as the agreement leaked in real time. In fact, after learning that additional appendices and materials had leaked online, Canadian official joked that “they’re scanning as fast as they can.”
The government’s public consultation on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) has stopped in Vancouver, Calgary, and Montreal in recent weeks as a growing number of people speak out on the agreement. Tens of thousands have also written to the government on the issue with some beginning to consider trade strategy alternatives.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) argues that the interest in other trade options stems from three developments. First, the TPP may not have sufficient support to take effect since under the terms of agreement both Japan and the United States must be among the ratifying countries. Implementation has been delayed in Japan where politicians fear a political backlash and seems increasingly unlikely in the U.S., where the remaining presidential candidates have tried to outdo one another in their opposition to the deal.
Critics of trade agreements such as the TPP and the Canada-EU Trade Agreement has emphasized that a key concern is that deals will lead to increased costs for pharmaceutical drugs. At a recent Standing Committee on Health hearing on the development of a national pharmacare program, officials with Health Canada confirmed that they expect prices to increase but remain unsure about how much (hat tip: Blacklock’s Reporter). The exchange came from questions by NDP MP Don Davies:
Mr. Davies: Canada has just signed two trade deals, CETA and the TPP, which have new intellectual property provisions. All the literature and opinions I’ve read indicate that this will delay the introduction of generics to market for some time. I’m seeing estimates of two years as about what it’s going to take. Ms. Hoffman, has the department done some analysis on the likely impact of TPP and CETA, and is it true that those trade deals will likely increase the prices that Canadians pay for pharmaceuticals and add a little bit of mud to that already dirty picture?
Today is World IP Day, which marks the creation of the World Intellectual Property Organization. Canadian policy has long preferred the use of international bodies like WIPO to advance its IP objectives, yet the intellectual property provisions in recently concluded trade deals such as the TPP and CETA run counter to Canadian strategy. That isn’t just the opinion of the many critics of those agreements. It is what government officials told International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland as part of her briefing materials.
The briefing document on intellectual property and the trade agenda, released under the Access to Information Act, leaves little doubt that trade officials are well aware that the Canadian position on IP in the TPP is inconsistent with our preferred position and that it will lead to IP trade deficits. The document states:
Canada’s preferred strategy is to establish international IP rules through multilateral forums such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). However, in the context of the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Canada negotiated trade obligations that, while reflective of recent domestic reforms, are beyond those standards set through multilateral forums, and which will likely require amendments to domestic practice, such as in the areas of geographical indications (GIs) and patent protection for pharmaceuticals.