Specter of ACTA hangs over TTIP negotiations

Parliamentarians warn against non-transparency in EU-US trade negotiations

Intellectual property (IP) should be left out of current trade negotiations with the U.S. and a deal should not be reached in secret, European civil liberties representatives advised the European Commission's trade department Wednesday.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP, formerly known as TAFTA), being negotiated by the European Commission, is haunted by the ghost of the controversial ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) accord that was shot down by the European Parliament last year. ACTA was defeated following widespread public protests over the secrecy in which it was negotiated, as well as concerns that elements of the text protecting copyright could breach civil liberties.

Speaking at a meeting in the European Parliament, representatives of EDRi, ACCESS and the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) warned the Commission that it could face the same protests over TTIP.

Rupert Schlegelmilch from the Commission's trade department, which is conducting the talks with the U.S., said that "as a citizen" he would like increased transparency, but that given the practical concerns of international trade talks, public negotiations are not feasible.

However, the Commission is obliged to keep European parliamentarians "fully informed," and Schlegelmilch said that, of course, required information will be passed on to elected officials. One of those officials, Maritje Schaake, said she would do whatever she could to make the debate public.

"Without full transparency, it is going to be very difficult to convince people that an IP chapter is anything more than an ACTA zombie," said Schaake's fellow parliamentarian, Christian Engstrom. Legislators with knowledge of the proposed deal are willing to make its contents publicly known, he said.

Meanwhile, Joe McNamee of EDRi argued that the Commission would be shooting itself in the foot by resisting transparency, as much of the public would then automatically assume it had something to hide, even if 70 percent of the proposals were good. "I don't see the value of non-transparency. In fact it could kill TTIP just as effectively as it killed ACTA," said McNamee.

On the content of the TTIP draft text, Bernt Hugenholtz, professor of intellectual property law and director of the Institute for Information Law at the University of Amsterdam, said that one of many reasons not to include IP in TTIP is that it would lock in those standards, blocking much needed IP law reform.

The Commission is not talking about rules-based enforcement of IPR, just cooperation, Schlegelmilch said. But that will not placate those like Hugenholtz, Schaake and Engstrom who are strongly arguing for reform.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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