NZ trade may face closer scrutiny under ACTA

April ACTA meeting to be held in New Zealand

Due to New Zealand’s small population, trade movements here could come in for close scrutiny under the planned Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, people close to the negotiations suggest.

While local officials have previously insisted only commercial-scale piracy of copyrighted goods will be targeted — that there is no intention, for example, to scan individual travellers’ MP3 players for copyright-infringing content at the border — sources now say that what is considered a “large” shipment, worthy of official attention, will depend on the size of the market in the country concerned.

“There can’t be a blanket statement that small shipments will be excluded, because most of [New Zealand’s] are small,” the sources say.

Officials speaking on background in interviews with both Computerworld and Fairfax stablemate The Dominion Post, say the draft text of the treaty is still far from finished and there are widely differing positions being put forward.

The situation may firm up a little after a further meeting in Mexico this month. Following that meeting New Zealanders will be asked to put forward submissions specifically on the parts of the agreement dealing with digital traffic.

The New Zealand government will host the following round of ACTA negotiations in Wellington in April.

Sources are still insistent that ACTA negotiations are unlikely to influence the course of copyright measures in domestic law, such as a replacement for the controversial Section 92A of the Copyright Act. It is scheduled to come back before Parliament later this year.

Those measures are aimed at tackling small-scale infringements online. Domestic law in the countries that are parties to the ACTA negotiations varies widely and the agreement will not attempt to impose absolute uniformity.

New Zealand legislation is likely to “hit most of the bases” that are expected to be of concern to ACTA negotiators in the US, an official at the Ministry of Economic Development told Labour MP Clare Curran last year.

There is confidence in government circles that New Zealand, with a strong domestic policy on copyright and counterfeiting and no specific reputation as a haven for piracy, is in an active rather than a passive position in the negotiations. With a growing film and software industry, sources say, New Zealand stands to benefit from stricter enforcement of intellectual property protection.

They emphasise New Zealand does not rate a mention on the US “watch-lists” of countries, whose intellectual property protection gives cause for concern. These lists are contained in the annual “special USTR 301” report of the office of the US Trade Representative.

However, few countries that are party to the ACTA negotiations are on that list. While not specifically listed, New Zealand does rate one mention in the USTR 301 report as giving concern in respect of “issues related to innovation in the pharmaceutical sector and other aspects of health care goods and services”.

The ACTA negotiations were unlikely to come up during the cancelled visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, says a spokesman in Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully’s office.

ACTA may have been mentioned somewhere in the written briefs for the visit, but these documents are huge, he says. Topics are tackled in order of priority and in the limited time of Clinton’s visit, only a minority of the subjects listed will actually come up for discussion.

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