In the face of concern by InternetNZ and others that there has been little attempt to quantify the impact of adopting stronger intellectual property laws in New Zealand as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, Trade Minister Tim Groser sounds an optimistic note.
New Zealanders should not “draw dramatic worries” out of leaked draft texts, he told Computerworld.
Dire predictions were made in the early stages of negotiations on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), Groser says. “There was concern about highly intrusive proposals that would mean ISPs would have to close down. In the end, through careful consultation with stakeholders, aided by very skilful negotiators from New Zealand and other countries, we got a deal that everyone thinks is quite balanced,” he says.
“I am confident that we will arrive at a judgement that will allow any New Zealand government to make a balanced call – is this in New Zealand’s interests or not?”
In a position paper on TPP, published earlier this month, InternetNZ states its concern “that New Zealand will submit to US demands for stronger intellectual property laws in order to realise gains elsewhere under the TPP.
“InternetNZ will support the TPP if comprehensive and independently verifiable evidence strongly suggests that the agreement, as a whole, will bring net benefit to New Zealand without prejudicing an open internet,” it adds [InternetNZ’s emphasis].
Groser’s assurances on the intellectual-property front at a press conference last week were more diffident than his absolute assurance to those worried about the Pharmac system being significantly modified, raising the cost of medicines.
Groser’s office released three documents on November 12, two days after InternetNZ’s paper, summarising the broad headings under which negotiations are being conducted, but Susan Chalmers, policy lead at InternetNZ, who wrote much of the position paper, suggests that release doesn’t add much to our understanding of what’s going on.
“Insofar as [Groser’s] notion of our overstating the potential ramifications of TPPA, it’s hard to overstate or understate when we don’t know what the current position is,” she says. The latest leaked text of the treaty’s intellectual property section was in February “and we don’t know what might have changed since then.”
A document posted on the Beehive website titled Ministers’ Report to Leaders opens up a new ICT-relevant aspect by referring to “developments in the digital economy such as cloud computing [which] create issues not previously envisioned.”
The major issues are whether and how to include in the agreement services traded among TPP partners in the cloud, it says. Australian sources say issues of the freedom to insist on cloud datacentres being sited locally, to preserve national sovereignty over data, might also be up for consideration.
Chalmers says InternetNZ has not yet considered the potential cloud ramifications of TPP, but it is on the organisation’s agenda.
Groser gives little hope of more detail emerging on the New Zealand view of the negotiations, unless there are further illicit leaks or a sudden change of heart by other nations. “New Zealand will never release texts without the agreement of our negotiating partners – end of story,” he says.
A key point of concern on the IP front, Chalmers says, is what texts on the agreement mean by an intention to “reinforce and develop” existing rights and obligations under the existing TRIPS (Trade Related aspects of Intellectual Property) agreement. A document leaked late last year allegedly summarising the New Zealand negotiators’ position, pointed to “a range of difficulties” for TPP in trying to extend IP protection beyond TRIPS and pointed to a growing tendency in some countries to “overprotect” IP, particularly by copyright and patent.
Chalmers agrees our negotiators should try to minimise expansion beyond TRIPS, but again it’s difficult to know what position they are currently taking, she says.
Groser also sought to calm fears that a TPP agreement negotiated by the current nine participants could be upset by the entry of Japan. Local IP lawyer Rick Shera calls the Japanese “ardent IP maximalists”, likely to demand stricter provisions in TPPA’s IP chapter. Groser says the negotiating parties aim to come up with a firm agreement, which the Japanese, if they wish to participate, will then be asked to sign.