Hints of deep discord in Canada-EU talks

February 4, 2010

By Robert Gallagher
European Editor at Large
Troy Media

Robert Gallagher

BRUSSELS, Feb. 4, 2010/ Troy Media/ –  It’s the ultimate bait and switch. Just when we were all licking our chops over the vaunted improvements in commerce of things physical – manufactured and agricultural goods, public works, workforce mobility – the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the European Union and Canada looks to be hung-up on commerce of the intangible — a category of goods that goes under the moniker intellectual property.

It’s not that anyone directly involved with the talks on either side has confirmed this. Because of an official, hermetically-sealed approach to communication, any news has been in the form of leaks and the most recent ones have almost exclusively centered on IP.

Simply, IP covers all creations of the human that are entitled to protection of ownership, such as copyright or patent.

IP creates differences

That this is a key issue for CETA, or for any 21st century trade agreement, should surprise no one.  Decades ago the world’s industrial powers began outsourcing manufacturing of goods to the developing world, increasing incrementally until IP remains one of the last frontiers for which the developed world maintains the undisputed upper hand.

All signs point to significant differences in the way the EU and Canada perceive IP protection issues.

It is a tasty morsel of irony that public knowledge of the disagreement resulted from an inadvertent and temporary leak of the EU negotiating position on the Internet, itself a nexus of the IP issue.  The text was only visible for hours but, given the import of the content, that was long enough to assure that the toothpaste would remain forever outside the tube. 

Some of the highlights of the EU vis-a-vis Canadian positions include:

  • Canadian accession to a number of international treaties – on industrial design, intellectual property, trademark and design – which Canada has not yet decided to ratify.
  • extension of Canadian copyright protection by 20 years to a total of 70 years to align with international law.
  • establishing resale royalties for works of art so that, in the case of a painting or sculpture for example, the artist would receive his fee at the initial sale, and then a royalty at each and any additional re-sale.
  • protection of European products under a principle of “geographic indications” requiring Canadian champagne, parmesan cheese and parma ham, for example, to be labeled otherwise. Canadian producers, in agreement with much of the rest of the world, consider such terms as generic, rather than expressions of geographic specificity.

A dramatic change possible

The implications of all of this are wide-ranging.  Michael Geist, Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa, feels that they have the potential to dramatically reshape Canadian copyright law.

“When combined with the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), the other ongoing secret negotiation, the two agreements would render Canadian copyright law virtually unrecognizable,” asserts Geist.  “The notion of a ‘Made-in-Canada’ approach promoted by Industry Minister Tony Clement – already under threat from ACTA – would be lost entirely, replaced by a made-in-Washington-and-Brussels law.”

Clearly, such positions bear little resemblance to the euphoria evoked by the prospect of an open Canada-EU market, and the issue is likely to continue to fester in an information environment that is all but a vacuum.  Though one might try to make a case for the sensitivity of the content of the accords as the motivation for the continued silence from both parties as the talks continue, such a position would undoubtedly be wrong-headed.

A bitter pill for Canada?

Early rounds of trade talks are typically used to float trial balloons, to test the waters as to whether issues under discussion will achieve the ultimate approbation of industry and the citizenry on both sides of the accord.  Having kicked off these negotiations with blue-sky assertions of win-win and no downside, they now seem to be mired in territory where the result could be a pill bitter enough to make a substantial portion of both those constituencies wince.

Right now, it’s anyone’s guess as to precisely what is being said, and that opacity, as far as the public is concerned, is questionable at best and arrogant at worst.  It would behoove both sides to remember that the approval of legislature, where the public still has a voice, will be required for the result of their negotiations to enter into law.

For that reason, the public has the right to be able to follow, and to provide feedback, into the negotiating process.  Anything less would hold in derision the transparency that CETA was proclaimed to promote.

Channels: The Calgary Beacon, February 6, 2010

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