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Last Chance for Canadians to Influence Secret Trade Talks?

BC-based web freedom group helps put TPP critics in room with nations' negotiators.

By Bob Mackin 10 Jul 2014 |

Veteran political reporter Bob Mackin is a regular contributor to The Tyee. Find his previous Tyee stories here.

When the latest round of closed-door talks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership was moved from Vancouver to Ottawa, so did the opposition to the 12-nation, pact-in-progress.

TPP negotiators from Canada, the United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam are holed-up in July 3-12 meetings in the capital. Few details are available, but the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada website, which was updated June 24, said "No ministerial meeting is being scheduled on the margin of the officials meeting in Ottawa."

"It could be the last round of talks that take place in Canada, so we really want to seize the opportunity to get that message along to the negotiators face-to-face," said spokesman David Christopher. "It's really important the negotiators realize that outside that bubble, there is an awful lot of public opposition to what is being planned."

Countries at the TPP table represent 792 million citizens and economies worth a combined $27.5 trillion -- about 40 per cent of the global economy. The most-recent ministerial meetings were held in Singapore in December 2013 and in February and May of this year.

Last November, WikiLeaks released the negotiated draft for the entire intellectual property rights chapter of TPP, a pact that is also the precursor to the United States/European Union Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The U.S./E.U. negotiations began in January 2013. If both pacts are adopted, they would cover 60 per cent of global trade. Neither include China.

Free speech, copyright worries

TPP working groups were set to discuss rules of origin (July 3-7), investment (July 6-8) and state-owned enterprises (July 9-12). But the one drawing the most attention is intellectual property (July 7-10).

"It reads like a Hollywood wish list, and it doesn't take into account at all the needs for citizens to express themselves freely online," Christopher said.

OpenMedia is part of the Fair Deal Coalition that hosted several TPP negotiators for lunch July 9 in Ottawa. Nine of 12 TPP countries attended the presentation, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Chile. "Peru, Singapore and the U.S. were the only ones who weren't there," Christopher said.

Copyright law experts Michael Geist (whose column runs in The Tyee) and Howard Knopf spoke about the opposition and the coalition presented a letter signed by more than 100 companies in social media, business leaders and Internet groups (including Electronic Frontier Foundation). They are concerned with the potential for TPP to require web service providers to act as so-called Internet cops and add costs that would harm the viability of their businesses.

"The provisions regarding intermediary liability are particularly concerning," said the letter. "We are worried about language that would force service providers throughout the region to monitor and police their users' actions on the Internet, pass on automated takedown notices, block websites and disconnect Internet users. Irresponsible rights holders can burden intermediaries with many thousands of automated takedown requests every day, using systems that operate with little or no human oversight. These systems rely on a 'takedown first and ask questions later' approach to pages and content alleged to breach copyright."

The coalition includes co-inventor of XML Tim Bray, who described himself as being pro free trade, but "horrified" that the agreement could water down Canada's copyright system  [Tyee]

Read more: Federal Politics, Media

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