ACTA negotiators flag mandate extension

Negotiations over secret agreement months from conclusion

New Zealand’s negotiators to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), a secretive trade agreement being negotiated between the US and other countries including New Zealand, have flagged they may require an extension to their mandate.

However, this does not indicate negotiations on the agreement are shifting into a new gear, says Ministry of Economic Development negotiator George Wardle.

ACTA seeks to firm up an international approach to counter the piracy of copyright and trademarked goods.

The mandate-change request was made at the back end of the formal briefing for the incoming Commerce Minister Simon Power and was pointed out by local consultant Mark Harris, an indefatigable critic of ACTA, on his blog.

In a table of “pending decisions or actions”, the briefing says the National government should “consider progress of the negotiations for the development of ... ACTA, which may require further decisions by Cabinet concerning changes to officials’ negotiating mandate.

“Depending on the progress of negotiations, changes to the negotiating mandate may be required to facilitate conclusion of the negotiations,” the briefing adds.

The negotiating team is merely flagging the possibility that the mandate may have to be changed at some future time, Wardle says. It has not made a specific request for any extension, nor is any such request anticipated in the near future.

Each entry in the briefing table has a “timing” attached and the date for this action is March 31. But this does not indicate any urgency, Wardle says. ACTA negotiations are some months at least away from a conclusion, he estimates. There are still a number of proposals on the table from different countries; some of these will be formally accepted at some stage and the conflicting ones will have to be formally withdrawn. It is against such steps as this that a new negotiating mandate may be needed, he says.

A meeting of ACTA negotiators was scheduled for earlier this month in Rabat, Morocco; but this has been deferred because of major political changes in some countries, notably the US. Wardle does not expect the next meeting to take place until at least May.

In spite of the new regime in the US, a request for more openness on ACTA has been denied.

The Office of US Trade Representative (USTR), part of President Barack Obama’s office, earlier this month denied a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from intellectual-property research and advocacy group Knowledge Ecology International.

The National government has given approval for New Zealand’s contribution to the ACTA discussions to continue on its present course, Wardle says.

Leaked ACTA proposal documents indicate a hard-line approach by intellectual property owner organisations and that, added to the secrecy surrounding the negotiations, has led to international concern among digital rights activists and others.

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