WikiLeaks has exposed details of secret trade negotiations that could leave Australians paying more for drugs and medicines, movies, computer games and software, and be placed under surveillance as part of a US-led crackdown on internet piracy.
A leaked draft of a controversial chapter of the Trans Pacific Partnership free trade agreement reveals the negotiating positions of 12 countries – including Australia – on copyright, patents and other intellectual property issues, with a heavy focus on enforcement measures against internet piracy.
Intellectual property experts are critical of the draft treaty, which they say would help the multinational movie and music industries, software giants and pharmaceutical manufacturers to maintain and increase prices by reinforcing the rights of copyright and patent owners, clamping down on online piracy and raising obstacles to the introduction of generic drugs and medicines.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has indicated that he is keen to see the trade talks pushed to a conclusion next month, saying “there’s always horse-trading in these negotiations, but in the end … everyone is better off’’’.
An expert in intellectual property law, Matthew Rimmer, said the draft was “very prescriptive” and strongly reflected US trade objectives and multinational corporate interests “with little focus on the rights and interests of consumers, let alone broader community interests’’.
“One could see the TPP as a Christmas wish-list for major corporations, and the copyright parts of the text support such a view,” Dr Rimmer said.
“Hollywood, the music industry, big IT companies such as Microsoft and the pharmaceutical sector would all be very happy with this.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade recently excluded journalists from TPP industry briefings held in anticipation of the next round of negotiations, which begins in Salt Lake City, Utah, next week.
Dr Rimmer said that Australia appeared “generally supportive” of the US or otherwise “quite passive” in the negotiations.
The leaked draft shows that the US and Japan oppose wording, supported by most of the other countries, that highlights the importance of “maintain[ing] a balance between the rights of intellectual property holders and the legitimate interests of users and the community’’.
In April, the then US ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich, accused Australian consumers of habitually stealing copyrighted content and of being “some of the worst offenders with amongst the highest piracy rates … in the world”.
New federal Attorney-General George Brandis has signalled his intention to introduce more stringent copyright laws to crack down on online piracy.
The leaked treaty text also reveals new American and Japanese proposals designed to enhance the ability of pharmaceutical manufacturers to extend and widen their patents on drugs and medicines.
Proposals with the potential to impact significantly on Australia’s Pharmaceuticals Benefits Scheme include a requirement that patents be available for new uses of existing drugs, effectively allowing for the “ever-greening” of existing patents.
The proposals also include compensation to companies for delays in the granting or extension of patents, and measures to ensure data exclusivity.
This would enable companies to prevent competitors, specifically manufacturers of generic medicines, from using past clinical safety data to support approval of new products.
Australia is recorded as having indicated opposition to these proposals, but the strength of this is unclear as neither the former Labor government nor the new Coalition government has publicly challenged the US position.
The draft text also shows that Australian negotiators have not sought any specific exemption to protect Australia’s tobacco plain-packaging laws from the treaty’s strong protection for the rights of trademark owners.
The Australian Greens spokesman on communications and the digital economy, Scott Ludlam, described the treaty as “hugely dangerous” and said people should be “deeply concerned about what is being negotiated”.
Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson on Wednesday moved a motion that calls on Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb to table the draft text of the TPP agreement in the Senate.
However, a spokesman for Mr Robb said the treaty negotiations would remain confidential but insisted there had been “a lot of consultation across all industry sectors that could be impacted by the agreement”.
WikiLeaks has condemned the TPP negotiations as a ‘‘corporatist trade deal’’.
Donation pledges to WikiLeaks exceeding $US73,000 ($A78,000) have been crowdsourced to support the publication of the TPP negotiating text.
The full text of the leaked negotiating text can by found at http://www.wikileaks.org.