While most ICT industry interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPPA) has centred on the chapter on intellectual property, the projected international agreement has a chapter dealing with e-commerce, which also presents significant challenges in a number of areas.
There are tightly focussed parts dealing with such matters as recognition of digital signatures and elimination of spam, but also more general questions of the cross-border enforcement of laws covering transactions parts of which may take place in several countries.
A discussion hosted by InternetNZ last week gave interested parties including specialists in the ICT industry and law the opportunity to be briefed by and to question, representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Ministry of Economic Development acquainted with the TPPA negotiations. The event was held under “Chatham House” rules, preventing Computerworld from naming speakers or going into detail on what was said.
The nine negotiating parties to the TPPA do not include any European countries, and where privacy is concerned – a key aspect of any commercial transaction – there are suggestions that there could be conflict between arriving at common principles allowing New Zealand to sign up to TPPA, while our privacy legislation is simultaneously aiming at alignment with the European Union’s Data Protection Directive.
Delegates to the event discussed mechanisms of harmonising any TPPA undertakings with domestic law. Another major thread of discussion dealt with the degree to which the treaty could hope to keep up with developments in technology and changes in society and commerce assisted by technology. Current commerce law, it was pointed out, was conceived for the days when trade was in the hands of professional importers and exporters with an intimate knowledge of procedures, standards and terminology.
Now, thanks to e-commerce, almost anyone can be a trader. We do not know what the next 20 years may bring in terms of further evolution of trading dynamics. Signing up to a long-term agreement such as TPPA, based on today’s knowledge, might hold New Zealand businesses back from currently unforeseen innovations, some contributors suggested.
Innovation in three-dimensional printing, particularly in the biological and medical field, blurs the line between the traditional categories of manufacture and service, enabling a set of instructions to generate a manufactured object or even modify living tissue in another country, without anything material being “shipped”. The question then arises whether the “21st century trade agreement” that TPPA is promoted as being, will be really adequate for the later years of this century, never mind further in the future.
Other contributors, however, pointed to the way trade agreements founded in the 1970s have evolved to deal with an environment not envisaged then.