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FTA: Gittens on the money « Previous | |Next »
August 11, 2004

The debate on the Free Trade Agreement with the US continues in the Senate. This article by Ross Gittens in the Sydney Morning Herald highlights an important issue that has not been discussed much.

Whilst Australian business sees the FTA as opening up access to the US market for them to make lots of money, and the ALP State premiers see it as ensuring lots of new American investment in their state, a real issue is intellectual property rights (IP), such as patents, copyright and trademarks). It is the issue the Americans are most concerned about.

This is the longest section of the FTA agreement and the most damaging for Australia. It is not about struggling novelists, filmakers and musicans. Since the US owns most of the worlds IP, so it gains most from extending its IP protection whenever it can in areas such as business software, films, music, software, books, drugs and agricultural chemicals. Gittens says the US is:

"...trying to get other countries to "harmonise" their IP laws with US laws, to act as policemen in prosecuting citizens who pirate American IP, and to enhance the ability of US companies to protect their rights in other countries' courts.This is all very well for the Americans, but it offers little benefit to us, just costs. Why? Because we are, and always will be, a heavy net importer of IP."

This is a big imbalance. And the FTA agreement gives US companies plenty of scope to use our courts to remove restrictions on their trade through the dispute resolution process.

That means a lessening of the capacity of the Australian Parliament to deal with these IP issues by regulating in the national interest. The Parliament has very little say in all of the hidden details as the power resides with executive. The current debate on the implementing bill is the only say the Parliament has, and that basically is no say.

The ALP is talking about addressing the issues of concern (their 42 points) in the future knowing full well that the actions of the Australian Government are constrained once the FTA is locked into place. As Gittens says we are selling off a slice of our national sovereignty. The support of this by the ALP indicates the political expediency by the ALP.

How is this going to be done? Peter Dahros & co say by shifting away from understanding intellectual property rights (IPRs)asinstrumental tools that governments use to regulate free markets, because without that regulation markets would not allocate an optimal level of resources to invention and creation to understanding intellectual property rights as natural rights or primary human rights. They say that:

"Essentially the US is creating a new paradigm in which the granting of monopoly rights is no longer seen as something that is special or exceptional, but rather something that is a permanent feature of the regulation of global knowledge markets. In this new paradigm, it will be US multinationals that will be the private regulators of global knowledge markets."

The effect of the IPR chapter in the FTA text is to reduce the capacity of the Australian government to define standards of intellectual property regulation that suit Australia's industrial and public policy needs.

So Australia sells off a slice of our national sovereignty.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:35 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)

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