The controversial Anti-Counterfieting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which was thrown out by MEPs last week, has made a reappearance as a key feature of another trade agreement.
Bilateral trade agreements are rarely the stuff of Twitter sensation, but the hashtag #CETA was trending yesterday in several different languages. CETA stands for Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, a broad-ranging trade deal between Canada and the EU designed to give Canada preferential access to European Union (EU) markets in return for Canada lifting restrictions to its own markets. Its proponents hope CETA will be ratified next year.
So why is CETA trending? Dr Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, yesterday blogged that CETA was being used as a Trojan horse for the widely unpopular ACTA legislation, which was so roundly rejected by the European Parliament on 4 July.
Never one to take the word "No" at face value, the European Commission (EC) has tried various tactics to ease ACTA through the European Parliament, including an attempt to delay the last week's vote until the European Court of Justice had ruled on it's compatibility with EU law.
That attempt failed, but the EC and Canada seemingly already had a Plan B up their sleeves. A leaked draft of the Intellectual Property Rights Chapter of CETA from February 2012 shows this to be a near duplicate of the ACTA legislation that was debated in the European Parliament.
According to Geist, "The European Commission strategy appears to be to use CETA as the new ACTA, burying its provisions in a broader Canadian trade agreement with the hope that the European Parliament accepts the same provisions it just rejected with the ACTA framework. If successful, it would likely then argue that ACTA poses no new concerns since the same rules were approved within the Canadian trade deal."
The EU was the last hurdle for ACTA before it became law, having already been signed in October 2011 by Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the US. In its current form it is now moribund, but few observers doubt that attempts will be made to revive it, the CETA affair being perhaps one of many.
Originally formulated by the US and Japan in 2007, ACTA was intended to improve the enforcement of anti-counterfeiting law internationally. However the secrecy with which it has been negotiated, the exclusion of many developing countries and civil groups in the talks, and the vagueness of its provisions have aroused strong international opposition among advocates of free speech and internet freedoms – and many MEPs – fearing the agreement could criminalise even minor intellectual property violations.
Even before it was revealed to be piggybacking ACTA onto the legislature, CETA had its critics in Canada who say it is biased towards large European corporations and against local interests. The inclusion of ACTA by the back door is unlikely to win it any favours.