ACTA to meet Sept 23: Locking out civil society?

It is hard to conclude other than that the negotiators of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, with the Obama Administration in the lead, do not want meaningful civil society input into the negotiation of the agreement.

The latest evidence broke late yesterday afternoon when the USTR announced that the Tokyo round of ACTA negotiations is starting this Thursday September 23, not on September 27 as most had thought. This morning, the Japanese Embassy stated in a personal phone call to me (I don’t know who else they are calling) that there will be a civil society meeting on Friday Sept. 24 in Tokyo at noon to 1pm.

The contact is Tokyo for the civil society meeting is yoshihiro.takeda@mofa.go.jp

At each ACTA negotiation since New Zealand, the negotiators have made time to meet with civil society representatives attending the meeting. This is really the only opportunity given to ever meet with a large group of negotiators. But the meetings are getting less and less substantive and this one appears designed to ensure that no NGOs show up.

You can’t book a plane trip if you don’t when to book it for. It takes 15- 20 hours to fly to Japan from the east coast of the U.S. and you land a day after you take off. So U.S. groups that want to attend the meeting at the start of it -- you needed to buy your ticket when the announcement hit after 3pm yesterday and be on a plane now. If you want to go to the one hour civil society meeting, you need to leave by tomorrow. Those that have bought a ticket likely have one for next week – when everyone thought the negotiation would be. So they will miss the civil society meeting.

Figuring out that the announcement of the date of the meeting was made yesterday was no easy feat. Two individuals (myself and Malini Aisola from KEI) inquiring with USTR yesterday about the meeting were first told that they had to contact the Japanese Embassy for information on the meeting. We were given the name of Mr. Kazuyuki Takimi, First Secretary, Economic Section, Embassy of Japan, Kazuyuki.Takimi@mofa.go.jp, 202-238-6729.

Mr. Takimi said he did not know when the meeting was going to be held because he had not spoken to “Tokyo” lately. He said he recalled it might be meeting on September 23, but could not confirm. He said he had no agenda and no knowledge of any civil society meeting opportunity. (He told me about the planned civil society meeting at 10:30am this morning).

In response to additional emails to USTR, Myesha Ward, the public liaison at USTR, confirmed at 3:30pm that the meeting was taking place on September 23, but stated there was no agenda. At 4:24pm, I got an email stating that the agenda had been released at www.ustr.gov/acta

If you want to laugh – go to that site and try to find the agenda. It is not in any of the press releases on the top or bottom of the site. It is not the prominent link on the left for the agenda to the 5th Round – that was in 1999. It is not in the upper right hand or left hand boxes where the recent announcements are. Still looking? It starts with the 372nd word in the background essay in the middle page.

Of course, this is just the latest example of the negotiators, and especially the USTR, actively working to thwart civil society participation in the creation of what may be the broadest and most substantial international intellectual property trade agreement of the decade.

Here are some other key points:

  • In every meeting but one, the U.S. has voted against public release of the negotiating text.
  • The U.S. is often the only country that votes against such public release.
  • When the USTR hosted the last round in August, it refused to publicly disclose that a full round was even taking place until the week of the meeting. Until then, the U.S. had claimed that the meeting was a bilateral discussion with the EU. It was not. It was full round with all the parties present.
  • Since the New Zealand round, there have been opportunities to meet negotiators; in Lucerne, negotiators held an on-the-record meeting with civil society representatives selected by civil society themselves. The USTR backtracked for the meeting held in DC – restricting access to a group selected by USTR itself and making the meeting an informal lunch with no opportunity for structured questions and answers.
  • Since the release of text in April, the USTR has not sponsored a single on-the-record meeting on ACTA in the U.S.

So ACTA is still being negotiated in secret. Indeed, blocking out civil society and other representation form the process appears to be the reason the forum for this discussion was shifted out of the World Intellectual Property Organization or other forums into this “country club” process.  

Based on the principles of the WIPO development agenda (see cluster B, number 15 et seq.), which would apply if this discussion were held at WIPO, ACTA negotiations should:

-operate in an open, inclusive, and transparent manner;

-be open to the participation of accredited intergovernmental and non governmental organizations;

-take into account different levels of development;

-take into consideration a balance between costs and benefits;

-be a participatory process, which takes into consideration the interests and priorities of all member and non-member states and the viewpoints of other stakeholders, including accredited inter governmental organizations and nongovernmental organizations.

We are far from that ideal.

WHAT NEGOTIATORS SHOULD DO ON TRANSPARENCY

The tenth topic for discussion on the ACTA agenda ( www.ustr.gov/webfm_send/2299) is transparency.

Here are some things the negotiators should adopt as policies for the future:

1. Announce the exact dates and location (city) of the next meeting at the end of each meeting, giving civil society as much notice as negotiators to plan travel, etc.

2. Announce the specific negotiation location (i.e. hotel, etc.) at least a month in advance so advocates can book a convenient place to stay.

3. Release the agenda at least a week before the negotiation.

4. Hold a substantive meeting with civil society at each negotiation. The meeting should include at least 3 hours of questions and answers and be held on the record. The meeting should be open to all interested civil society representatives. A speakers list may be created in advance. Governments should not select who can attend. The meeting should not be held over a meal, which is a distraction.  

5. Make all announcements in a press release posted where other press releases go on your websites and emailed out to contact lists.

6. Invite press and other individuals to join an ACTA news email list where you would send out updates.

7. After each negotiation, release the draft text for comments.

8. At least two weeks before each round, and at least two weeks after release of text, hold a public hearing to solicit views on the released text.

Negotiators need to stop treating academics and public interest advocates as the enemy. We can help you draft a better agreement if you accept input from us.But we can;t give meaningful input without a forumand without access to negotiating text.

For more information or to submit comments, contact Myesha_Ward@ustr.eop.gov, Kira_Alvarez@ustr.eop.gov Kazuyuki.Takimi@mofa.go.jp, yoshihiro.takeda@mofa.go.jp 

Permalink :