Tag: trade negotiations

The Trade Negotiation Proliferation

It’s getting hard to keep track of all the various trade negotiations going on right now.

As this blog’s readers may recall, in his State of the Union speech, President Obama announced that the United States would begin trade negotiations with the EU. And no doubt you know that the United States, Canada, and Mexico are part of NAFTA.

But less prominently, the United States, Canada, and Mexico are also part of trade talks among various nations in the Pacific region, called the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). And now Japan has announced that it would like to join these talks.

In addition, Canada and the EU have been negotiating their own trade agreement for several years now.

And just the other day, Japan and the EU started trade talks.

Oh, and Mexico has suggested a broader NAFTA-EU trade deal.

Got all that? It’s OK if you don’t—I’m not sure I do either.

There are some good reasons to use international trade agreements to promote free trade. The world trading system has been very successful in bringing down tariffs and other protectionist barriers over the past few decades. But the recent proliferation of agreements, with sometimes conflicting rules (going beyond just protectionism), may be steering us away from real free trade. Real free trade would lower trade barriers for all countries, not just for some. Hopefully some day trade negotiations can get back to that principle.

It’s Not the Crime, It’s the Cover-Up

Secrecy breeds suspicion, and little in the intellectual property area has garnered more suspicion than ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.

ACTA is a multilateral trade agreement that has been under negotiation since 2007. But the negotiations haven’t been public, and access to key documents has only been provided to people willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

It is inconsistent with the U.S. public’s expectations to have government officials negotiate public policies without providing public access to the deliberations and the documents. There are some limitations and exceptions to this principle. Generic diplomatic relations probably develop best in an environment where candor can prevail. Issues related to national security may require secret negotiations. But intellectual property issues affect all Americans’ communications, commerce, entertainment, expression, access to knowledge, medical care, privacy, and more.

The good news is that a text of the current draft agreement has now been released. According to James Love of Knowledge Ecology International, ACTA “goes way beyond counterfeiting and copyright piracy, into several categories of intellectual property rights, including patents, semi conductor chip designs, pharmaceutical test data and other topics.”

Public debate on ACTA can now begin, but it begins with doubts surrounding it, doubts that were sown by the non-public process in which ACTA has developed so far.