ACTA Negotiations – US-EU Divide Being Settled, Text Being Finalized

The dispute over geographical indicators pretty much stalled negotiations in ACTA – one of the worst kept secrets on the international trade fronts – is reportedly now on the fast track to being finalized. Quite a different image today than what it was last week.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

Just over two weeks ago, we noted that ACTA negotiators were attempting to resolve major differences and bridge the gap between the European Union and the United States. Signs of stress and tension has been quite apparent clear back in February. The European Union earlier this month also formally declared opposition to ACTA. That was a follow-up to the very testy comment from Europe saying that the European Union would not “Swallow” US hypocrisy on geographical indications in ACTA.

This year so far, these tensions between Europe and the US have been rising and it seemed to not only seize negotiations faster than Michael Geist, speculated that it was possible that Europe could even walk from the negotiations altogether – thus leaving the negotiations in shambles.

While it was that image that ACTA would not only bring untold constraints of people’s rights and personal freedoms all over the world, but the unprecedented secrecy surrounding the debates was severely damaging the legitimacy of negotiations from hundreds of thousands of observers internationally, the image that many involved are deeply divided on any number of issues internally may have caused as much, if not, more damage to their reputations. A failure in the ACTA talks would easily mean untold millions in lobbying and years of efforts going straight down the tubes. Failure was certainly an option for a while this year. There’s little wonder why ACTA negotiators wanted to shed that image of being splintered between key players.

This was definitely apparent in a recent report on Reuters which notes that the US and Europe are much closer to closing off their differences, paving the way to a finalized text as early as early as September. It’s quite a stark contrast from before and it will be interesting to see if months of very loud opposition from Europe can be quieted through a single meeting. It’s not impossible because if one side caves on certain issues, that would certainly speed up the process of negotiations. The question would then be, who will cave on what issue that would resolve these differences if something like that were to happen? If tension continues even in the slightest between the two major groups in the debate, it would be anywhere to being extremely difficult to quite impossible to resolve these differences in the matter of a few short hours judging by how vocal some of these groups have been. Europe and the US still sound a lot like the two neighbors on the block that never get along at times. Whether they can resolve these issues is quite up in the air in my books.

If negotiations can get over these hurdles, then the text could be finalized as early as September. Then again, we’ve seen deadlines to finalize the text set and missed before. So at this point, I can’t say I fully trust such a deadline. Still, rights groups will no doubt have their hands full if the text is finalized because there will be a lot of lobbying pressure for many countries to ratify the treaty and bring it into their law books.

Currently, what’s more troubling is that the text won’t be published until after, according to critics, it’s too late – when negotiations are concluded and no substantial changes can be made. Canada, one of the negotiating parties, confirmed that the text will only be released after negotiations have concluded, thus locking out any public feedback.

If there is anything ACTA negotiators have proven to me in all of this, it’s that there is no concern about what the public is thinking throughout the negotiations. The only hint was when they released a draft text allegedly to lay to rest that a DMCA style law and iPod seizures wouldn’t happen at borders based on suspicion of copyright infringement, but the ongoing secrecy since did little to reassure the public. The one-time release of the text was pretty much the only time throughout the negotiations that negotiators even came close to listening to the public. The public, overall, has been locked out of the debates legally while a few major corporations got a ringside seat in the negotiations. Continual reports suggest that the US has even been key in blocking transparency throughout the negotiations.

Another thing the negotiations have proven to me is that this whole process has been nothing but deceit. They claim to respect human rights throughout the process, but leaks prove that these claims are little more than lip service. Negotiators claim that this agreement is solely on cracking down on counterfeited goods, but leaked documents point out that this is on the much broader intellectual property debate. Some even note that defendants on the wrong side of accusations of copyright infringement online would lead to criminal prosecution – rather than civil prosecution. Some of the reports suggest that ACTA even goes in to the extreme of demanding jail-time for accused file-sharers. To me, there’s nothing honest about ACTA. The only honesty in ACTA is the point that people are in a locked room negotiating on a treaty and having these kinds of meetings all over the world. That might be the only honest thing I’ve ever seen out of these negotiations.

One final observation I’ll note about these negotiations is that these negotiations have proven just how far removed lawmaking can happen from a civil society. Un-elected officials are negotiating on criminal codes that various countries are somehow expected to follow after. The negotiations in ACTA is unprecedented in this manner. The idea of several corporate heads sitting in a smoke filled room discussing how countries must run their countries and setting in stone the rules for these countries to follow is a conspiracy theorists wet dream. It’s astonishing in many ways that this is really happening.

Personally, I think ACTA negotiators should be wary of one thing – many civil countries won’t give up their rights so easily. There are those who will not give up their democracies without a fight and, mark my words, there will be resistance to ACTA once it is finalized and pushed on to countries around the world. Some might cave and fold easily, but others will put up with a much stronger fight when you come out of your corner.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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