Round and round like a skipping record: Australia’s FTA IP negotiations under fire. Again.

The recent reports from the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) and the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade (FADT) on the Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement (KAFTA) inspire a sense of déjà vu.

Yet again, a Free-Trade Agreement (FTA) has been presented to the parliament for ratification containing an extensive, uncosted, unanalysed IP chapter. A chapter that seems to have been cobbled together several years before and then left on a shelf until the rest of the deal was concluded. 

The Coalition, Labor and the Greens all raised concerns about the IP provisions in the deal and about the process of negotiation and analysis.  Evidence presented to the Committees noted that the chapter is unbalanced, extending protections for rightsholders with very limited protections for the public interest.  It is also prescriptive, detailed and extends our international obligations, all factors which decrease our domestic policy-making space.   

The Coalition majority report (from 5.8) from JSCOT noted that ‘a less prescriptive approach may be beneficial’ and suggested ‘that the interests of both non-rights holders and rightsholders need protection’.  The dissenting reports from the Australian Labor Party and Australian Greens were even stronger. The ALP recommended that

Australia’s negotiating stance on intellectual property should depend on an assessment of Australia’s national interest, based on evidence not assumption, and be informed by analysis focused specifically on (a) whether Australian stakeholders are experiencing specific issues in IP in the other negotiating Party or Parties, (b) whether those issues can be (best) addressed through a trade agreement, and (c) the impact of any solutions on Australian interests, including the interests of other stakeholders and the broader public interest in freedom to make innovation policy

However the Australian Greens in their dissenting report point out the obvious:

the public should be aware that over the past five years parliamentary committees, the Productivity Commission, IP Australia and the ongoing Competition Policy Review have all asserted the importance of cost benefit analysis for trade agreements and IP with no shift in government policy

For KAFTA, as we pointed out in our submission there is ‘no evidence of economic analysis, or indeed any analysis of the impact of the IP Chapter in KAFTA’.   Without proper analysis of the agreement, and without analysis on the effects of previous agreements, it’s impossible to adequately judge the successes and failures of our negotiations.

Australia’s Trade Minister, Andrew Robb, is hopeful that the next big trade deal – the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will be concluded early 2015.  This agreement covers 40% of world GDP and includes Australia and 11 other countries.  Provisions agreed to in this agreement will have broad effects, not just on Australia but also on the world’s IP policy settings.  We can only hope that our negotiators are currently operating with more purpose than has been shown in previous agreements, and have been paying head to the skipping record of previous recommendations.