The New Zealand public will be consulted on the controversial international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), details of which were leaked on the whistleblower website wikileaks.org.
Contrary to scepticism expressed in blogs and mailing-list discussions, there will be more than one opportunity for public comment on the provisions of ACTA, says George Wardle, who is coordinating local response at the Ministry of Economic Development.
Culture and Heritage Minister Judith Tizard has requested submissions on the still tentative ACTA proposal with a deadline of July 14. At that time, international government agencies will only be at their second meeting on the topic, with several different aspects still to be discussed.
This has led to the suspicion that the consultation will be merely, in the words of one local commentator, "a rubber stamp."
The leaked document is a preliminary draft prepared by U.S. and Japanese representatives and there is no definitive text for the proposed agreement yet, Wardle says.
"But there will be an opportunity for public comment after we have a text and before [New Zealand] ministers are asked to make a decision," he says.
If the ministers decide to proceed, he says, there will be a subsequent "national-interest analysis" which will involve another round of public comment.
If the text presents particular problems of disagreement with domestic legislation, then there will be additional consultation with pertinent parties such as copyright owners and the agencies that will police the agreement, Wardle says.
"What we are seeking [with the present consultation] is information from the public on what should be the focus of New Zealand's participation in ACTA ... what should New Zealand be trying to achieve through participation in the negotiations and what matters should New Zealand seek to have covered in such an agreement," he says in a comment provided under an Official Information Act request to former State Services Commission man Mark Harris.
Wardle was not able to say when a definitive text of the agreement might be available.
"We had the first meeting [earlier this month] of proposed participant countries," he said last week, and a summary of discussions will be placed on the MED website. The next meeting is scheduled to be around the middle of next month. "We should finish discussing border protection and start on civil enforcement. After that, there's criminal enforcement and other bits and pieces."
He says many of the ACTA provisions are already covered by the 1994 TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) agreement, which New Zealand has signed.
Although ACTA will strengthen border control on imports and goods transiting through New Zealand, it is directed at preventing piracy and counterfeiting "on a commercial scale," he says. It will not mean Customs examining individual travellers' laptops or suitcases for single infringing items.
Exports from NZ are not currently earmarked for ACTA attention as this country is not considered a large-scale source of pirated goods Wardle says.
"There has been a lot of speculation online about what any actor [person or agency connected with the agreement] will or will not do, but it's premature," he says.