FAQ: What is the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA/TPP)?

What is the TPPA/TPP and where are the negotiations at currently?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA, although sometimes abbreviated to TPP) is a controversial international trade agreement which is currently undergoing negotiations.

While the text of the agreement has not been made public, it has been speculated that it will include provisions on intellectual property and copyright (Australia's current copyright laws are undergoing reform).

What is the TPPA?

The TPPA is an agreement between Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the US and Vietnam. The aim of the agreement is to open up trade between member countries. The text of the agreement has been shrouded in secrecy, with Hamish McCormick, lead TPPA negotiator for Australia, recently stating at an estimates hearing that Australia’s foreign minister, Bob Carr, has not yet seen any negotiating texts.

“…it is not an agreement that is on the table for anybody to have a look at … It is not something that exists physically where you can say, 'Here, have a look at the text.' That is not the way these negotiations proceed,” McCormick said.

While a draft copy of some of the text of the TPPA was leaked to the public, McCormick stated any discussion about what exactly is in the text was “purely speculation” and will continue to be speculation until negotiations conclude.

“What I can say is that we are not proposing to change our intellectual property system, and we are not proposing that there would be changes as a result of the TPP to our IP system as a whole,” McCormick said.

How will it benefit Australia?

According to McCormick, the TPPA will benefit Australia because it is a free trade agreement and an important aspect of multilateral trade liberalisation. It is expected the TPPA will help open up export opportunities for Australia. It is also expected to open up trade between Australia and Peru, which does not have an existing bilateral trade arrangement, allowing the export of Australian dairy products and mining services to the country.

Why has the agreement been criticised?

Critics have described the TPPA as ‘ACTA on steroids’ — referring to the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement — and has resulted in protests around the world, including in Australia.

While the text of the TPPA has not yet been disclosed, Electronic Frontiers Australia secretary Kim Heitman says it is likely to cover temporary copies, such as internet caches and RAM in computers. It is also seeking to end parallel imports, presume guilt in copyright infringement claims and introduce a three-strike rule to throw offenders off the internet.

"[C]ontent owners are doing their bit to ensure that the TPP would contain IP provisions that aggressively protect their interests at the expense of the rest of ours," argued Rashmi Rangnath, staff attorney at Public Knowledge, a US-based group that advocates for internet openness and consumer rights with regard to copyright.

According to Rangnath, a leaked paper by the US Business Coalition for TPPA included advocacy for longer copyright terms, strict provisions on the circumvention of digital locks (DRM) and US-style statutory damages for copyright infringement.

Some criticism has also targeted the secrecy of the negotiations. Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has persistently stated the text should be made public, while the Pirate Party has said there is “something very wrong with the negotiation of this agreement when an effort of transparency means releasing a draft that is over one year old”.

Where is it at now?

Negotiations began for the TPPA in March 2010, with 12 rounds of negotiations having taken place so far. The 12th round was held 8-18 May in Dallas. These recent talks covered topics such as intellectual property, competition investment, e-commerce, telecommunications, technical barriers to trade, market access and financial services.

The 13th round will be held in San Diego 2-10 July. This stage of the negotiations will allow stakeholders to speak one-on-one with negotiators and provide their views on the TPPA.

When will the TPPA take effect?

McCormick stated at the estimates hearing that negotiators are hoping to complete the TPPA text later this year. Three other countries – Japan, Mexico and Canada – have also shown interest in being part of the agreement, with a decision to be made later this year as to whether country membership of the agreement will be expanded, according to McCormick.

Follow Stephanie McDonald on Twitter: @stephmcdonald0

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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