Developing Country Opposition to ACTA Mounts

Just as the G8-G20 meetings conclude in Muskoka and Toronto, another round of negotiations on the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement resumes in Switzerland today. In the aftermath of the last round of discussions in New Zealand, a draft version of the ACTA text was publicly released, temporarily quieting criticism about the lack of transparency associated with an agreement that currently touches on all forms of intellectual property, including patents, trademark, and copyright.

While the transparency concerns are no longer in the spotlight, my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that mounting opposition to the agreement from the developing world, particularly powerhouse economies such as India, China, and Brazil, is attracting considerable attention.  The public opposition from those countries – India has threatened to establish a coalition of countries against the treaty – dramatically raise the political stakes and place Canada between a proverbial rock and hard place, given its close ties to the U.S. and ambition to increase economic ties with India and China.

India and China formally raised their complaints earlier this month at the World Trade Organization, where they identified five concerns with the agreement.  

First, they fear ACTA conflicts with international trade law and would create legal uncertainty.

Second, they believe ACTA undermines the balance of rights, obligations, and flexibilities that exist within international law.  This applies to both trade issues and intellectual property matters.  For example, both India and Canada are currently working to implement international intellectual property rules within their domestic laws (both countries have tabled draft copyright bills) and ACTA would create significant new restrictions that could have an immediate domestic impact.

Third, there is concern that ACTA could have a dangerous effect on access to medicines by disrupting shipment of goods such as pharmaceuticals.  Over the past few years, European countries have seized generic medicines traveling between India and Brazil.  Stopping delivery of crucial medicines while in transit creates potential health risks for countries anxious to import them for delivery to waiting patients.  

The prospect of seized generic medicines – ACTA calls for increased seizure powers by customs officials – could impact Canadian pharmaceutical companies as well, given the success of several generic pharmaceutical companies in serving a global marketplace.

Fourth, governments are uncomfortable with the prospect that ACTA could force them to allocate new resources toward intellectual property enforcement ahead of other important policy concerns. While safeguarding intellectual property is important, many developing countries can ill-afford to pull scarce law enforcement personnel away from investigating violent crime in order to track down purveyors of fake handbags or DVDs.

Fifth, there are real concerns that ACTA establishes a dangerous precedent by brushing aside United Nations-based international arenas that offer greater transparency and consensus-driven policies in favour of a closed, non-transparent negotiation process that intentionally excludes developing countries.  

These concerns should resonate strongly with Canadian officials hosting the G20, since just as Canada tries to broaden the scope of international economic discussions to include major developed and developing countries, ACTA represents a step in the opposite direction.

While some may suggest that the developing world opposition provides evidence that ACTA is actually on the right track, the reality is that it is designed to apply to the very countries that are now preparing to openly oppose it.  There is no mechanism to "force" these countries to abide by ACTA standards.   Just as Canada has sought to broaden participation through the G20, the best approach to gaining broader acceptance is to include developing countries in the ACTA talks, not leave them on the outside in the hope of later pressuring them to comply with an agreement from which they were deliberately excluded.


  1. What do you do as a super power when you’re reduced to just being a country of consumers with very little to offer the world anymore, well you try to force strict IP laws onto the world to keep yourself relevant and have control over ideas in the world market.

  2. The countries that have concerns about ACTA make up about 20% of the world’s GDP. Of those countries China and India have some of the fastest growing economies in the world and it would be hard for the EU and the US to ignore that. Someday those ACTA supporters will realize that it’s not strong IP that fosters innovation and a strong economy but the lack of it, but by then it will be too late.

  3. Blood from stones
    The problem with IP enforcement in the emerging world is a challenging one. I have traveled extensively and lived in some of these countries so possibly have a wider perspective than some.

    Let me relate from a consumers perspective in relation to entertainment IP. For instance in one country, it was impossible to even purchase a legitimate DVD or software program as it was not physically available for sale. In another country, DVD movies were available but at the equivalent of an average full days wage, while copies on the street were available for an average hours wage. I ask those who are fortunate enough to live in the developed world if you had a choice between a $100 DVD or a $10 one, which would you prefer to buy?

    While I sympathize with the IP holders, who would like to see profits from these sectors, I do not believe stricter enforcement is going to produce significant results. It is also disingenuous to quote large losses in these countries due to piracy, when the purchasing power is not there to begin with. Each country not invited for participation in ACTA is different, and presents unique challenges. To exclude them from the discussion is to ignore the reality on the ground and leads to wishful thinking on the part of the invited guests.

    I realize the problems go beyond entertainment IP to counterfeit and possibly dangerous products, and that is a different part of the discussion. But the IP holders should realize it is not always possible to get blood from a stone and should be collaborating towards workable solutions with all the players involved.

  4. Where’s Obama’s position on ACTA
    > What do you do as a super power when you’re reduced to just being a country of consumers with very little to offer the world anymore, well you try to force strict IP laws onto the world to keep yourself relevant and have control over ideas in the world market.

    From what I’ve seen, their education system was worthy of super power status. However, it’s been declining rapidly. When the educated populations of India and China outnumber the entire US population, this new IP game might as well be over for them.

    Where’s Obama’s “benevolent” voice in all this? Why is he allowing these deceptive negotiations to continue? Does Obama really endorse ACTA behind the scene? Where are all the eloquent speeches about freedom and transparency now? We could use some, especially now!

  5. RE: tom
    “Does Obama really endorse ACTA behind the scene? Where are all the eloquent speeches about freedom and transparency now? We could use some, especially now!”

    Didn’t you hear? Vice-president Biden has strong ties to the MPAA/RIAA.

    “While I sympathize with the IP holders”

    Can you be more specific? IP is just a vague term used to describe copyrights, patents and trademarks. Each are completely separate and dealt very differently under law. Simply generalizing them under one term is a lazy and potentially dangerous habit.

  6. War on Intellectual “Property” “Theft”
    I don’t pay much attention to American politics. Now that you mention it, I recall Joe Biden was in the pocket of the *IAA.

    I just found this link by the way; a new “War on P2P” has begun. The usdebtclock shows greed has a price, and these secretive anti-democratic scams won’t last much longer. Patience, patience!

  7. Canada Day
    Besides the laws, this is what the police did.. sad
    I just wanted to share this true story with everyone..

  8. Obushma and McBush
    “Does Obama really endorse ACTA behind the scene?”

    Suckers had only two choices: Obushma and McBush.

    It does not matter who gets elected, the bankers are still the same.

  9. Devil's Advocate says:

    I’m not entirely sure why I should believe that woman’s testimony… I am not saying she’s lying either. I’m just saying such things should be taken with a grain of salt.

    “All of us who are put into police custody must remember that theirs is an illegitimate source of power, but that we draw our power from Mother Earth and from the love in our hearts, which is a stronger power that will overcome their guns and their fear.”

    With statements like this, it is clear that her views have much to gain by demonizing police and people in charge. Also, let’s keep in mind that very few people that would get arrested wouldn’t exactly fess up to what they did wrong.

    Again, there is the possibility she’s telling the truth, but there is also the possibility she’s outright lying to push her views. Let’s all keep an open mind on the issue.