Global Trade Agreements: Unstoppable, Or Being Stopped?

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The ongoing trend of proliferating bilateral and multilateral trade agreements has entered into a new stage with Japan’s decision to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations and the launch of negotiations between the EU and the US to reach a comprehensive trade and investment agreement (TAFTA | TTIP). On top of that, the EU and Japan also started negotiating a bilateral trade agreement in April 2013. Due to their sheer size, these trade blocs have the potential for significant economic and geopolitical implications.

It’s undeniable that there are high levels of activity in this sector. An interesting article regarding the IP Osgoode site demonstrates the struggle to fortify copyrights & patents both globally & domestically. It shows there is another factor in the equation:

coordinated activism against perceptions about increasing levels of IP protections is being led by a host of developing states as well as civil society critics in developed and developing countries. These groups are reacting to what they consider a proprietary ownership system over cultural and communicative processes that is deemed to serve the interests of dominant industries primarily located in developed states. These actors are seeking to “rebalance” the international IP system to meet the socioeconomic development objectives of a diverse set of stakeholders in developed and developing countries. They often advocate for legal and socio-legal reforms that they contend will stimulate public policy objectives for technological innovation and economic growth while addressing the economic, social, cultural, and development needs of users, citizens, and emerging business practices.

The increasingly contested nature of IP negotiations has resulted in a patchwork of international trade and IP agreements that are negotiated outside of established multilateral forums. In particular, the US and EU have been actively seeking arenas where they are better able to reach agreement on complex issues. However, the failure of international discussions – such as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) – as well as American legislation – notably the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (the PROTECT IP Act, or PIPA) – have cast doubt on the viability of these exercises.

The looming trade agreements and global fight against ever more unfair copyright and patent systems has created a huge amount of tension. The TPP chapter clearly states the USA being cut off from the rest of the globe in its efforts to acquire more severe rights for patent holders and copyright. What will be interesting is to see if there is a huge public opposition to TPP due to the measures they pursue to deal with online copyright infringements and net freedom, the same as it was for ACTA.