We’ve written about the unhealthy secrecy around the ACTA treaty negotiations. As New Zealanders we believe we have a right to know what our government is doing on our behalf.
We wrote to the Ministry of Economic Development and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to ask them some questions about ACTA under the Official Information Act. We just got our answers back (scanned PDFs of the MED letter – 3MB, MFAT letter – 3MB, and cabinet paper – 6MB) and we have to admit that we weren’t very surprised to see more excuses not to release official information than we saw information.
Some things we learnt from the letter
- That the MED can’t tell us which building in Wellington will be used for the ACTA negotiations. The secrecy is necessary to “maintain the effective conduct of public affairs through the protection of Ministers, members of organisations, officers and employees from improper pressures or harassment.”
- That the Associate Minister of Commerce, Judith Tizard, announced on 28 May 2008 that New Zealand would be joining the ACTA negotiations.
- That the government thinks that protecting secret negotiations is more important than honouring its responsibilities under the Official Information Act.
- That MFAT isn’t aware of of any indication that NZ’s participation in ACTA would help it negotiate a trade agreement with any country.
- That the MED is negotiating under a mandate given to it by the Cabinet External Relations and Defence Committee. They refuse to release this.
- That MFAT and MED have consulted with groups including (a limited selection, see the letter for the full list) Trademe, Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association of NZ, Recording Industry Association of NZ, various lawyers and attorneys, Internet NZ, Google Australia and NZ, Catalyst IT, NZ Federation Against Copyright Theft, and Tech Liberty.
- That MFAT and MED have done no economic analysis of the costs/benefits of participating in the ACTA treaty negotiations.
- That “the proceedings have not been kept secret”.
Some things we learnt from the cabinet paper
- That Japan and the US were the original instigators of the ACTA treaty, in response to “the growing trade in counterfeit goods and pirated copyright protected works” and because they didn’t get their way in WIPO and WTO talks.
- That New Zealand was interested in the possibility of using ACTA to extend intellectual property rights to “traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions” such as Maori culture, but decided that the other participants would not be interested.
- That the NZ govt understood that “the co-sponsors of ACTA are proposing to establish an international commitment to strong protection for intellectual property rights that will go further than those commitments required under the WTO TRIPS Agreement. It is intended that ACTA will set a common standard for IPR enforcement, border protection measures, civil enforcement; and measures related to optical disc piracy, internet distribution and circumvention of technology protection measures.” Therefore the “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement” name has always been a misnomer.
- That “Developing countries and [deleted: s6(a) OIA] are often singled out as the major sources of counterfeiting and piracy.” Section s6(a) allows for suppressing information when it would damage international relations. Speculation: we don’t want to offend China.
- Optimism lives! This was obviously written before citizens found out about ACTA and started to voice their disapproval. “The co-sponsors consider that by including a limited number of likeminded countries negotiation of ACTA would be relatively straight forward.”
- That there “are no human rights implications arising from participation in the negotiations for ACTA.”
- That the assumption was that there would only need to be minor changes to the Copyright and Trademark Acts if the decision was made to sign the ACTA treaty.