European Commission gets mandate to negotiate trade agreement with US

On 17 July, UK prime minister David Cameron used the G8 meeting in Lough Erne (Northern Ireland) to express his own enthusiasm. TTIP would, he said, be worth £100 billion to the EU economy, £80 billion to the US economy, and £85 billion to the rest of the world. It is not an easy task. These are effectively two economic equals, each of whom will seek the best possible deal for their own side, with neither really able to bully the other. Nevertheless, both sides are optimistic and enthusiastic.

But there is a fly in the ointment – the memory of ACTA. ACTA was the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement designed to set worldwide standard copyright laws; and was finally killed off when the European Parliament refused to ratify what the European Commission and many individual member nations had already agreed. The two elements that caused most problems were the secrecy with which ACTA had been negotiated, and the draconian intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement elements.

The European digital rights group EDRI has already challenged the EC over lack of transparency and IPR in TTIP. “The Commission was careful to stress that TTIP was not a ‘new ACTA’,” it reported. But on transparency it got an ambiguous and conflicting response. Asking what IPR issues would actually be included it was told that the Commission would not publish details because it could not be expected to provide information on ‘every single detail’. “Suddenly,” says EDRI, “we had moved from a narrow, focussed exercise to address a small number of identified problems, to a list of measures that was potentially so long that it would be unreasonable to ask the Commission to explain what problems it was seeking to solve.” 

To paraphrase Churchill, concluded EDRI, “never in the history of mankind was so little meaning conveyed by so many words to such little effect...”

It is perhaps concerns such as these that led to a last-minute withdrawal of the audiovisual sector from the TTIP mandate given to the Commission. France and 13 other member states had pushed for its exclusion; the UK and Germany wanted its inclusion. In the end, a compromise was reached – the section that would include the IPR enforcement elements that led to the downfall of ACTA in Europe would be excluded, for the time being. “Instead,” noted Intellectual Property Watch, “the Commission will listen to the US ideas on the audiovisual sector and wait for the development of an EU policy for digital content in the EU.”

This is not, then, a victory for the digital rights groups that fought against ACTA; but it is a confirmation that the IPR section of the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is likely to be contentious.

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