I had read some of the stuff on the TPP, but not until attending a seminar by Wellington academic Suzie Frankel this evening have I felt even remotely informed on the topic.
It's pretty clear that if we go with the TPP it will require a degree of bending over backwards on IP law matters in favour of the US. The US is keen to ensure that signatories to the TPP have strong IP protections in place. These protections would in many cases be much stronger than the protections we currently have in place. Some of the most notable changes demanded by the US are:
- increasing the duration of copyright to the life of the author plus 70 years (currently it is plus 50), and to 95 years for "works for hire"
- eliminating parallel importing
- extending the scope of patentable subject matter to include methods of treatment of humans
- fixed penalties for copyright infringement
- a requirement for NZ to accede to a number of IP treaties it has not ratified.
You can debate whether these protections are good or bad for New Zealand. And indeed we should have that debate. But negotiations are going on behind closed doors, and it's likely that we will have a set of laws foisted upon us that don't take heed of our own economy's innovation requirements. What's good for the US pharmaceutical and entertainment industries may not always be good for NZ, a nation that is still developing as a "knowledge economy".
The Australian Productivity Commission undertook a review of free trade agreements after the US-Australia free trade agreement was signed. It has been largely accepted that Australia's agreeing to stronger IP laws at the behest of the US was the price Australia had to pay for a free trade agreement. But the Productivity Commission's report concluded that future free trade agreements should not include IP provisions unless a full economic assessment of their effects had been undertaken. The imposition of IP laws without any consideration as to their effect on the economy is likely to be damaging to innovation.
The reality is that we will probably cave in on a number of measures, if we get concessions on agriculture. Politicians like to talk about innovation and the knowledge economy, but when they're pushed they never have the actions to back up the rhetoric. Meat, dairy and kiwifruit always take precedence.
The biggest concern in all of this is not the proposed changes under the TPP, but the secrecy of the negotiations and lack of public debate.