Anti-counterfeit trade deal planned for September

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Negotiators from the United States, the European Union and nine other countries said on Friday (20 August) they planned to finish work in September on a proposed pact to crack down on trade in counterfeit and pirated goods.

The countries also pledged to publicly release the final text of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which has raised concerns among Internet and digital rights advocates, "before deciding to sign it".

US movie, music, software and other copyright-based industries calculate that they lose more than $16 billion (12.5 billion euro) in sales each year from pirated versions of their products sold around the world. Many of these counterfeit and pirated goods are made in China.

In a joint statement, the participating countries addressed a number of worries that have surfaced about the pact, saying it would not require members of the agreement to take steps that violate "fundamental rights and liberties".

Some digital rights advocates feared that provisions aimed at reducing online piracy of music and films could empower Internet providers to deny service to repeat offenders.

The trade agreement "will not hinder the cross-border transit of legitimate generic medicines," the joint statement also said.

The agreement "will not oblige border authorities to search travellers' baggage or their personal electronic devices for infringing materials," it added.

Some were concerned that the agreement might allow customs officials to seize generic versions of patented drugs and to confiscate laptops and music listening devices that contain pirated material.

Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Switzerland also are taking part in the talks. US President Barack Obama has called the talks a key element of the US strategy for fighting the global trade in fake goods, estimated at more than $200 billion annually.

The agreement is expected to mandate that customs officials in all the participating countries have authority to seize counterfeit goods without a request from the right holders or a court order.

US officials have said they do not expect the agreement to require changes to US law so it would not have to be approved by Congress. However, that has only heightened concerns about what the pact would require.

One tough remaining issue is the 27-nation EU's demand that the pact cover "geographical indicators," which are names for food and alcoholic products drawn from a particular location, such Champagne or Cognac, both in France.

But US business groups worry that would mean US products as commonplace as Kraft Parmesan cheese could potentially be treated as illegal items under the pact and subject to seizure by customs officials.

The United States believes that issue is resolvable by the time negotiators hold their next round in Japan in late September, said Nefeterius McPherson, a spokeswoman for the US Trade Representative's office.

Participants in the negotiations agreed that Japan would host the next negotiating round in September and that they are committed to resolving the remaining substantive issues at that time, officials said.

Negotiators made progress this week in all areas of the pact including general obligations, civil enforcement, border measures, criminal enforcement and enforcement measures in the digital environment, the group statement said.

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which began in Geneva two years ago, is a plurilateral trade agreement to establish international standards on intellectual property rights.

According to former trade negotiators, countries attempted to clinch an agreement under the banner of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), but as members could not agree, like-minded nations formed ACTA.

In March, the European Parliament defied the EU executive by casting a vote against an agreement between the EU, the US and other major powers on combating online piracy and threatening to take legal action at the European Court of Justice (EURACTIV 10/03/10). 

An overwhelming majority of MEPs (663 in favour and 13 against) voted to approve a resolution criticising the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), arguing that it flouts agreed EU laws on online piracy.

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