Trans-Pacific Partnership talks in disarray

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Trans-Pacific Partnership talks in disarray

Analysis: US copyright proposals rebuffed.

A US-led proposal to tighten intellectual property rules in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement has been rebuffed at the latest round of negotiations in Melbourne.

Canberra sources confirmed reports that non-US parties involved in the talks last week had uniformly opposed the US' position, which pressed countries to adopt rights and enforcement procedures not contained in any existing trade agreement with the country.

“Americans had received a ‘flea in their ear’,” World Information Technology & Services Alliance (WITSA)  Tim Conway told iTnews.

Conway said the US delegation had sought extensions to copyright compliance and terms enforcing liability on internet service providers.

“All countries should be wary of the colonisation of their IP laws through trade treaties that are thinly disguised advocacies for Hollywood interests," he said.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the intellectual property chapter of the agreement is still being negotiated.

"Like other chapters in the TPP negotiation, at this stage the IP Chapter requires more work by all countries involved for it to be concluded," the spokesman said.

Monthly meetings for IP chapter

US stakeholder Sean Flynn, an associate director of the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property at the American University Washington College of Law, reported that monthly discussions around the IP chapter in Melbourne would "continue indefinitely".

“This has already been the case since the February round in Los Angeles, followed by the full round in Melbourne last week,” Flynn said.

He said the US' intellectual property enforcement proposal - more stringent than previously envisaged and labelled "ACTA-plus" - could be re-introduced during an intersessional meeting of stakeholders next month in Santiago, Chile.

The next full round of negotiations on the agreement have reportedly been scheduled for May in Texas.

TPP text available when countries agree

US trade ambassador Ron Kirk was forced to defend secrecy surrounding TPP negotiations at US Senate hearings last week but effectively confirmed talks had stalled.

“We have moved to disclose more information sooner than any previous administration, as we did in the case of ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement),” Kirk responded. 

“The reality is, because these are very complex negotiations, we are representing the United States and the President as your counsel.  As are other partners.  You can understand that there is a certain degree of discretion that has to occur to get these countries to sit down at the table and negotiate with us.”

When pressed by Democrat Senator Ron Wyden on releasing the draft text publicly, Kirk said disclosure would be considered once countries had agreed on wording.

“If you look at our modus operandi on ACTA, as soon as we had enough of a convergence among our negotiating partners and we thought we had the text, we moved to do that,” Kirk said.

Senator Wyden pushed Kirk to put “portions of the text - not the classified matters - that relate to Internet freedom policy online".

"I think the American people want it," he said.

Conroy questioned over stalled talks

Australian communications minister Stephen Conroy was also the subject of questioning around timing of the TPP negotiations during Senate question time this week.

Greens senator Christine Milne suggested a separate chapter of the negotiations potentially allowing companies to conduct international legal action under the negotiations had stalled talks.

It has been suggested the proposal could provide greater legal grounding for major tobacco companies to challenge Australian legislation mandating plain packaging on cigarettes.

But the dispute resolution clause has been opposed by the Federal Government, on grounds it did not support "provisions that would confer greater legal rights on foreign businesses than those available to domestic businesses".

"There is no apparent way forward on this," Senator Milne said.

Conroy said discussions were still taking place.

"I'm not in a position that I could opine as to whether or not the agreement will now fall over," Senator Conroy said.

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