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Tuesday, 20 September 2011 09:10

NZ bid to resist onerous trade deal


Australians often look down on New Zealand - the latter has much less land mass and about a fifth of the population of its bigger cousin across the Tasman. But when it comes to resisting the dictates of flat-track bullies, the Kiwis often outscore the others.

This appears to be true in the case of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, a trade deal which has been negotiated in secret since March 2010, and one that the US is attempting to force eight other countries to accept. The TPPA has one aim, to ensure that big American corporates are able to make more money out of the eight countries - Peru, Malaysia, Australia, Chile, Vietnam, New Zealand, Brunei, and Singapore - which are part of the negotiations.

But these days secrecy is a relative word and plenty has leaked about the negotiations to cause warning bells to ring in every one of the countries locked in the talks with the US.

The draft IP chapter of the deal was leaked on the internet earlier this year; according to this draft, draconian measures are proposed to be applicable to ISPs. Laws will have to be put in place to require ISPs to cooperate with copyright owners in preventing unauthorised storage and transmission of copyrighted materials.

Legal liability for ISPs will extend beyond the provisions of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Internet users will, by law, have to be identified by an ISP if copyright owners have given "effective notification of claimed infringement".

There is also a proposal to extend the copyright period to a minimum of 95 years from creation of a work to a maximum of 120 years. Parallel trade in any copyrighted goods is ruled out altogether in the draft.

The prices of medicines are also expected to rise as big American drug companies push for bigger profits.

As far as the IT aspects of the TPPA go, a New Zealand grouping called NZRise has done more than its part to make the participants aware of exactly how insidious the deal would be when, if as expected, a draft framework is announced at the APEC summit in November by Barack Obama.

NZRise managed to make presentations to the delegates during a round of TPPA negotiations in Vietnam in June. The Americans surprisingly allowed the presentations to go ahead. iTWire spoke to Don Christie (pictured), one of the founders of NZRise and a director at New Zealand's biggest open source company, Catalyst, to find out more about this intrepid group.

iTWire: How did NZRise come about?
Don Christie
Don Christie: NZRise came about over the last year or so as a number of NZ companies realised that there was a need to work together to promote the cause and success of locally owned IT companies. Sadly most national IT organisations are financed by multi-nationals and these tend lobby hard on those companies' behalf.

At a time when national governments, including NZ, are looking at procurement reform, all of government projects, supplier panels and so on it seemed a good time to make sure local businesses (which are largely SMEs) are not overlooked.

We are also concerned that the overly aggressive stance taken on IP issues by the USA and the MPAA et al increases the risk profile of tech companies and our clients. Draconian Copyright legislation is being extended by the terms the USA would like to see put into the TPPA.

I think Australia could do with a similar emphasis on enabling SME suppliers. If anything their access to government contracts is worse than in NZ.

iTWire: These talks (TPPA) started in March 2010. How come you waited so long before trying to inform delegates about the drawbacks of TPPA?

DC: Many of us have been involved in similar campaigns around ACTA, Copyright reform and Patent reform. We absolutely have also taken a strong interest in TPPA and consulted with our own politicians and negotiators over a long period of time.

Vietnam was the first opportunity the IT industry had to actually access negotiators in this way. Previously we have been kept at arm's length, even when the negotiations were in New Zealand. It looks as though the USA round just held in Chicago also kept interested parties away from negotiators, although InternetNZ took up the industry mantle for that.

NZRise has only been going since February so I don't feel we been too tardy in our actions. We did have a presence during the NZ round which came before Vietnam.

iTWire: How did you manage to get big organisations to back you? I'm particularly impressed that you got CCIA.

DC: We are well connected, through contacts built up over many years, particularly in the FLOSS community. For example I was heavily involved in the Standards NZ review of OOXML - which was rejected by NZ. This involved a lot of work with overseas experts. Nat Torkington's annual "kiwi foo camp" has also been a good opportunity to network with people who share similar objectives and concerns. And finally, NZ, like Australia, is a country of many immigrants, many of whom maintain their contacts from overseas.

iTWire: What further plans are there?

DC: Not sure. There are a series of rounds being planned but the details are sketchy. There will be one in Australia in January 2012 and it will be important to get some political concern going on that. At issue isn't having a trade agreement but the way US policy has been captured by a few self-serving sectors.

iTWire: How much will the TPPA affect the price of medicines in New Zealand? Do you have something there like the Medicare scheme under which prescriptions are subsidised?

DC: We have Pharmac which procures drugs. The USA pharma industry would like to see that disappear. They would also like TPPA countries to recognise much longer patent terms. This would mean that generic drugs could not be sold for much longer which would drive up the cost of health considerably. In short, more people would die.


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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