17th Feb 2019

EU, negotiating partners to release Acta text

After heavy criticism from civil society and the European Parliament for negotiating a new international anti-counterfeiting treaty in secrecy, the European Union and its foreign partners have agreed to make public the negotiating text for a proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta).

"Overall, therefore, there was a general sense from this session that negotiations have now advanced to a point where making a draft text available to the public will help the process of reaching a final agreement," the European Commission said in a statement on Friday (16 April).

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  • Negotiators have caved into pressure to release the negotiating text (Photo: Flickr)

"For that reason, and based on the specific momentum coming out of this meeting, participants have reached unanimous agreement that the time is right for making available to the public the consolidated text coming out of these discussions."

The text will be made public next Wednesday.

Brussels made the announcement simultaneously with the US Office of the United States Trade Representative using an identical text following the conclusion on Friday of the Eighth round of negotiations on Acta in Wellington, New Zealand, talks that lasted three days.

Until now, the commission has said they were unable to release any texts without unanimous approval from negotiating partners.

However, the statement also said that in agreeing to release the draft text, the positions of the different countries would remain undisclosed: "Participants reaffirmed the importance of maintaining the confidentiality of their respective positions in trade negotiations."

Civil liberties watchdogs and monitors of the negotiations have been particularly worried about the potential for the agreement to restrict online freedoms.

Last month, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), Peter Hustinx, raised fears that the Acta legal framework could result in "large scale monitoring of internet users" and the international imposition of 'three strikes' laws, such as that recently passed in France, which cuts off internet access of people accused of illegal downloading.

Also in March, MEPs in a resolution passed 663 to 13 called on the commission to increase transparency in the Acta negotiations or risk legal action in the European Court of Justice.

The euro-deputies demanded to be "fully informed at all stages of the negotiations," and asked the commission to "conduct an impact assessment of the implementation of Acta with regard to fundamental rights and data protection."

Attempting to assuage concerns, the EU and US statements also went on to say: "Acta will not interfere with a signatory's ability to respect its citizens' fundamental rights and liberties.

"There is no proposal to oblige ACTA participants to require border authorities to search travellers' baggage or their personal electronic devices for infringing materials.

"In addition, ACTA will not address the cross-border transit of legitimate generic medicines."

The commission also "confirmed that no participant is proposing to require governments to mandate a 'graduated response' or 'three strikes' approach to copyright infringement on the internet, another key concern of online freedom advocates.

The Acta participants agreed that the next meeting would be hosted by Switzerland in June this year.

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