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UPDATE: What's Happening in the TPP on 21st-Century Issues

03/28/2013 - 5:44pm

"Twenty-first century issues" in the Trans-Pacific Partnership were the topic at a panel discussion hosted Thursday morning by the Washington International Trade Association (WITA).

USTR negotiator Jonathan McHale spoke to U.S. efforts in e-commerce and telecommunications - speaking specifically to the U.S. objective of ensuring that everyone has a right under trade rules to move information across borders, and also that firms don't have to build servers in every country where they want to do business. "We don't want a balkanized international marketplace," said McHale, noting that today's digital economy has the capacity for - and trade rules should allow - for the free flow of information and digital commerce across borders. He spoke of the publicly available Information and Communication Technology trade principles negotiated by the U.S. and the EU, Japan, Taiwan, Jordan, and Mauritius as the basis for U.S. efforts to negotiate binding commitments in the TPP.

Probir Mehta said that USTR is seeking high-standard intellectual property rights provisions in the TPP to encourage innovation and support U.S. jobs. He spoke of working to stop the growing trend of trade in cross-border pirated and counterfeit goods - many of which, from airbags to toothpaste, can endanger public health and safety - and the importance of open markets and a level playing field for American producers of products from software to cheese. He also discussed the importance of protecting the valuable trade secrets on which U.S. and other TPP countries rely. He also noted U.S. work to ensure a strong balance on copyright protection and enforcement as codified in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and stressed that the U.S. is pushing for binding commitments from TPP partners so that they also achieve a balance in their copyright systems in providing exceptions and limitations for scholarship, criticism, news reporting, research and other legitimate purposes --- as in the United States.

Daniel Watson noted that state-owned enterprises are increasingly participating in international trade, thus the need for trade rules that ensure a level playing field for private firms and their workers to compete. "Governments should not favor the companies they own to the detriment of private competitors," said Watson. He cited direct support, preferential financing, and selective regulation or enforcement of laws for SOE's among the issues the United States is seeking to address.

Mark Linscott discussed the TPP's aims on regulatory coherence. He said that while the TPP is not the first trade agreement to tackle regulatory issues, rather than addressing specific regulations the TPP aims to promote "the use of good practices in the design, review, and implementation of regulations and to promote regulatory cooperation." Linscott noted these aims could be achieved through various methods ranging anywhere from Mutual Recognition Agreements to increased dialogue and transparency regarding how regulations are being made in a particular country and what they do.

WITA board member and moderator Dorothy Dwoskin asked the USTR negotiators if there was one myth they want to "knock down" about their respective areas of negotiation - and all were glad to respond.

McHale noted that there's some lack of understanding that the e-commerce and telecom talks are meant to promote the development of global networks that support innovation, creativity, and the ability for all partners to trade and move information worldwide - clearly promoting U.S. interest, given the competitiveness of US firms in this space, but equally providing enormous opportunities for our trade partners, large and small.

Linscott tackled the myth that regulatory coherence might somehow limit the ability of TPP partner countries to regulate in the public interest - noting that instead, the actual point of the regulatory coherence efforts are to provide tools to help countries regulate better and ENSURE more transparency.

Mehta noted that there are numerous myths regarding intellectual property initiatives, but cited most prominently misconceptions that portray the desired outcomes on IP as much narrower and more restrictive than they really are. Mehta stressed again that in reality, the U.S. is looking for strong and balanced protections, with equal emphasis on both: strong, in that it will be consistent with American law, but reminded listeners that consistency with U.S. law means that the United States also wants to see reflected the wealth of exceptions and limitations that provide great benefits to American consumers, scholars, writers, artists, and others: "If the U.S. can strike that balance, we want our TPP partners to strike it as well," he said.

Watson emphasized that TPP work on state-owned enterprises does not target any specific country, but is seeking to make disciplines relevant to the global trading system, and the need for a balance with regard to SOEs that compete in commercial markets not about requiring privatization of public services.

Negotiators also took questions from the press and other attendees as part of the panel. One notable topic that came up during this portion of the event was the importance of public input for USTR negotiators, and Mehta in particular explained that input from generic drug makers, internet companies and content users has shaped new U.S. proposals on intellectual property from pharmaceuticals to copyright limitations and exceptions.

The negotiators closed by discussing areas where there has been interesting progress on 21st century issues in the discussions-from partner countries understanding the vital importance of facilitating broadband internet access, greater cooperation among various domestic regulatory agencies in partner countries as they work to promote, the usefulness to businesses of the level of transparency of the U.S. regulatory system, broader understanding among negotiators of new digital content offerings thanks to stakeholder presentations on-site at talks, and the need for disciplines on state-owned enterprises as the potential for their participation in international trade continues to grow.

More detailed information on the Trans-Pacific Partnership - including an outline of the chapters in the agreement and goals for each area - is online at www.ustr.gov/tpp.

WITA is planning additional TPP-focused panels next month on market access issues, U.S. priorities and objectives, and TPP partners' perspectives on the talks.