New lobby group details TPP's impact on everyday life, business

'A Fair Deal' lobby group details how free trade pact will hit NZ businesses, everyday life.

A new lobby group has formed to focus attention on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement – and there were fighting words at its launch Wednesday night.

The "A Fair Deal" coalition wants the government to hang tough on its current position during ongoing negotiations over the free trade pact, which involve NZ, the US, Australia and other Pacific Rim countries.

That is, refusing to change our intellectual property laws to accommodate US demands.

InternetNZ policy lead Susan Chalmers used the launch to underline the group's mission statement, reiterated on its website:

A Fair Deal is one that opens up new trade opportunities without forcing us to make copyright law changes that would take a major toll on New Zealand.

What kind of toll?

One panelist, Trade Me head of operations Mike O'Donnell, feared the TPP would spell the end of parallel importing. 

Another, NZRise's Don Christie – best known as a one-time head of the NZ Open Source Society, and one of the directors of Catalyst IT – says software companies usually build on existing work, making patents inappropriate, expensive and impractical in the sector.

Wednesday night he gave the example of Orion Health, the Auckland based company that has made hay from money from US stimulus spending directed toward healthcare, and is now shooting to become NZ's first billion-dollar software exporter.

The TPP, as the US wants it implemented, would force New Zealand to recognise software patents, opening NZ companies to a series of lawsuits from so-called "patent trolls".

Mr Christie also saw a negative impact on NZ generic drug maker Douglas Pharmaceuticals, which employs more than 200 scientists.

US "big pharma" companies were pushing for drug patents to be extended in TPP signatory companies. That would mean Douglas could not start work on cheaper, generic versions of big-name drugs coming off-patent until after its rivals in non-TPP countries.

InternetNZ's Ms Chalmers worried a provision allowing copyright holders to prohibit temporary copies would play havoc with way the internet works (temporary or "cached" local copies of content are often used to speed access).

The Blind Foundation's Neil Jarvis said with little content available in braille, large text or audio, NZ's copyright law grants the disabled an exemption to copy works into an accessible format. It would lose this under the TPP, criminalising the foundation's members.

ABOVE (L-R). The panel at the "A Fair Deal" launch at Auckland's Sky City Convention Centre Wednesday night, following the first day of InternetNZ's Nethui: Russell Brown, Neil Jarvis (Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind executive director), Susan Chalmers (InternetNZ policy lead) .Don Christie (NZRise), Mike O'Donnell (Trade Me head of operations); click to zoom. Fair Deal backers include InternetNZ, Consumer, the Telecommunications Users' Association (Tuanz), Trade Me and the Institute of IT Professionals.

Everyday impact
District Court Judge David Harvey said New Zealanders had to realise the TPP would affect their everyday lives, too.

He gave the example of how, today, many DVD players let you play discs designating for other regions – a practice that is legal under the Copyright (New Technologies) Amendment Act 2008 but which would be criminalised under the TPP.

(Some may find Judge Harvey's sustained attack on the US negotiating position intriguing in the light of the fact he is also a pivotal player in the Kim Dotcom extradition saga).

An Australian government representative gave another potential everyday example from the floor: low-cost, third-party inkjet printer refill cartridgess becoming illegal.

All af the above examples could occur if the US gets its desired section (or "chapter") on IP (intellectual property) included in the final version of the TPP.

Judge Harvey summed up, "We have met the enemy, and he is the US" - a play on a quote from his Nethui keynote speech earlier in the day on internet regulation vs self-regulation earlier in the day, during which Judge Harvey said, "The problem is not technology. The problem is behaviour. We have met the enemy and he is us." [UPDATE: Read more of Judge Harvey's comments in What Judge Harvey said]

The good news
The good news is that our government opposes the US-backed TPP chapter on IP, centre-right blogger, National Party pollster and former InternetNZ vice-president David Farrar told the gathering.

Trade Minister Tim Groser was fully aware of the importance of the chapter, Mr Farrar said.

The bad news
Mr Farrar added it is still unclear whether Mr Groser realises its importance to defend to the last – or whether he has realised the chapter's worth as a bargaining chip to trade for greater agricultural access to US markets.

Three alternatives
There were three possible outcomes, said Mr Farrar.

One would be final version of the TPP that guaranteed NZ access to US markets, and dropped the heavy-handed copyright chapter. That would be easy for the government to approve.

At the other end of the spectrum, it could provide NZ with little access to the US, and keep the copyright chapter. That would be easy to dismiss.

But the most likely outcome was better access to US markets, with some elements of the copyright chapter remaining.

It would be a grey area, with the government left to make a judgement call on whether to ratify the treaty.

Prime Minister John Key and Mr Groser would be among a small group of key players making the decision, Mr Farrar said. (He did not see Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully playing a central role, although MFAT has been involved in elements of the TPP negotiations).

Cabinet does appreciate the arguments around copyright issues, Mr Farrar said, and NZ negotiators had been "quite staunch" on the issue (there have been 12 rounds of TPP negotiations so far, although progress is hard to gauge with so much secrecy surrounding the treaty).

But it was still quite possible that IP concerns would be sidelined, in whole or part. The government has made it clear that  "any trade deal that includes the USA is absolutely top priority for us," he said

UPDATE: Opening the second day of InternetNZ's NetHui, on Thursday, Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said his government was keenly aware of copyright issues surrounding the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, "as are other countries".

"We don't want to compromise too much," the minister said.

But he added the government was looking for "the best TPP result overall" as it sought access to "quality markets".

Speaking immediately after Mr Joyce, opposition leader David Shearer said it was difficult to critique the TPP, given the secrecy around the free trade deal's negotiations (and he is not alone in this criticism, in the US Congress is pushing for a peek at the agreement it will later be asked to ratify).

New Zealnd business groups should be consulted, he said.

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