Efforts to get Australia to adopt the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) have been set back with a parliamentary report released today recommending that the country not ratify the treaty until the Federal Government can properly assess the agreement’s economic and social costs and benefits.
The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement report from the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties states that the government needs to assess economic and social factors in a transparent and independent manner.
“The ACTA NIA [National Interest Analysis] illustrates a flaw in the process of developing NIAs. Clearly, ACTA is an agreement intended to provide an economic benefit to Australians, yet, because it does not require a Regulation Impact Statement, no effort has been made to develop the economic case for the Agreement,” the report states.
A total of nine recommendations are listed by the committee, including recommending Australia wait to introduce ACTA until the Australian Law Reform Commission’s report into copyright and digital environment is completed, which is slated to occur no later than 30 November next year.
The report also states the government needs to clarify the terms used in ACTA, including its ambiguous use of words such as ‘piracy’, ‘counterfeiting’, ‘aiding and abetting’ and ‘commercial scale’.
“…the committee is concerned about the lack of clarity in the text, the exclusion of provisions protecting the rights of individuals and ACTA’s potential to shift the balance in the interpretation of copyright law, intellectual property law and patent law,” the report reads.
Matthew Rimmer, associate professor at the Australian National University, told Computerworld Australia the report has wider ramifications for the international treaty-making process in Australia.
“I think that the report is [also] a very significant statement by the Australian parliament, especially as it is a joint report. The membership of the committee was quite varied [in terms of political parties], but they could come to an agreed conclusion on this matter,” he said.
“The approach of the committee seems to be one of delaying or postponing ratification of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.”
Kimberley Heitman, secretary at Electronic Frontiers Australia, has welcomed the committee's report.
"The committee correctly refuted the DFAT claim that these treaties must be negotiated in secret, without even parliamentary scrutiny, as is the department's undemocratic habit with trade treaties. As the Committee noted, the ACTA treaty is all about intellectual property laws and cannot be kept secret when so much legislative change would be triggered by its ratification. The only 'trade' is the sell-out of Australian interests to international corporations," he said.
ACTA has been a controversial agreement which encompasses intellectual property, customs border measures and copyright infringement in the digital environment. Provisions for civil enforcement have also been included.
After nearly three years of negotiation with Australia, the US, Canada, the EU and its 27 member states, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and Switzerland, a final text was released in May this year.
The committee's report could also have implications for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA/TPP), which is another international trade agreement currently being negotiated.
However, the future of ACTA is uncertain, with a European parliamentary committee recently rejecting it, with a media report stating it would be scrapped if the European parliament rejected the agreement.
Greens senator Scott Ludlam, who has been against the implementation of ACTA, today stated: “The Greens would welcome ACTA being ruled out completely because the content of this treaty is fatally flawed and the process that brought it about was shamefully and unnecessarily secretive. While our government did hold consultations they were farcical because those being consulted did not have the secret text and therefore couldn't provide advice and feedback.”
The joint standing committee also noted in its report that “Despite DFAT’s optimistic outlook, there appears a very real possibility that ACTA will not be ratified by sufficient countries in order to come into existence”.
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