As we've discussed before, one of the sneakier moves of the content industry (and, later, the pharmaceutical industry) was to jump into the international trade process, to circumvent national governments and to effectively force them into passing laws that they liked. We've been raising concerns
about this whole process, and it appears that many public interest/civil service groups agree. With the US and Europe getting ready to start negotiations on a "trans-atlantic free trade agreement" (TAFTA), a large group of public interest/civil service groups have teamed up to issue a declaration that "intellectual property" has no place in free trade agreements
. It also demands much more transparency in any negotiation.
First, we insist that the European Union and United States release, in timely and ongoing fashion, any and all negotiating or pre-negotiation texts. We believe that secretive “trade” negotiations are absolutely unacceptable forums for devising binding rules that change national non-trade laws.
Second, we insist that the proposed TAFTA exclude any provisions related to patents, copyright, trademarks, data protection, geographical indications, or other forms of so-called “intellectual property”. Such provisions could impede our rights to health, culture, and free expression and otherwise affect our daily lives.
Past trade agreements negotiated by the US and EU have significantly increased the privileges of multinational corporations at the expense of society in general. Provisions in these agreements can, among many other concerns, limit free speech, constrain access to educational materials such as textbooks and academic journals, and, in the case of medicines, raise healthcare costs and contribute to preventable suffering and death.
Unless “intellectual property” is excluded from these talks, we fear that the outcome will be an agreement that inflicts the worst of both regimes’ rules on the other party. From a democratic perspective, we believe that important rules governing technology, health, and culture should be debated in the US Congress, the European Parliament, national parliaments, and other transparent forums where all stakeholders can be heard—not in closed negotiations that give privileged access to corporate insiders.
The TAFTA negotiations must not lead to a rewriting of patent and copyright rules in a way that tilts the balance even further away from the interests of citizens.
Frankly, they could go much further in their statement. As we've pointed out for years
, things like patents and copyrights are the exact opposite of "free trade." They are, by definition, restrictions on free trade -- and a form of protectionism. If the goal of a free trade agreement is to remove those kinds of restrictions and ease the flow of trade between nations, it seems incredibly strange to bundle it with blatant mercantilist concepts of protectionism and monopolies.