Bridges Weekly Trade News DigestVolume 16Number 28 • 18th July 2012

Mexico Inks Anti-Counterfeiting Pact

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Mexico has officially signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, government officials announced last week. The 11 July decision comes amid growing doubt over the deal’s overall future, given its recent rejection by the European Parliament and the various questions being raised over whether the other signatories will complete their own ratification processes.

ACTA is a plurilateral trade pact seeking to strengthen international standards for the enforcement of intellectual property rights in order to combat counterfeiting and piracy. Of the eleven negotiating parties, Switzerland  has yet to sign the deal, and has until May of next year to do so. However, the deal must still be ratified by six countries before it can enter into force; none have yet ratified it.

The pact has been controversial since the beginning, with the deal’s opponents arguing that some of the provisions contained in the final text - which go beyond the standards set by the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) - could have a detrimental effect on access to medicines and fundamental freedoms in the digital environment.

The anti-counterfeiting agreement has been especially contentious in Mexico, where its fate was already cast into serious doubt last year after the Mexican Congress passed a resolution urging President Felipe Calderón - whose term will end this December - not to sign the deal. (See Bridges Weekly, 29 June 2011)

The June 2011 resolution came after the Grupo de Trabajo Plural, or Plural Working Group, which was established to evaluate the pact, conducted a series of consultations with officials, academics, and members of civil society over several months regarding the deal’s potential costs and benefits. In their findings, they cited, among other issues, a lack of transparency within the ACTA negotiations and a need for more detail about the agreement and its implications.

All negotiating parties interested in signing ACTA must submit their signatures to the government of Japan, which is the depositary of the agreement. Last week’s signing of ACTA by Mexican Ambassador to Japan Claude Heller was slammed by legislators from various domestic political parties, who argued that the concerns they had raised during the working group process had gone unanswered.

The conclusions from last year’s Plural Working Group “have fallen on deaf ears,” Manlio Fabio Beltrones, a leading member of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, or Institutional Revolutionary Party) within the Mexican Senate, said on Twitter in response to the announcement.

However, Mexican government officials have argued that the deal is essential for combatting problems such as trademark counterfeiting and piracy, and reinforcing the country’s abililty in resolving these difficulties.

“ACTA aims to provide the Mexican people with sound international protection of their intellectual property rights, to attract new investments, to ensure the existing work flows, to increase the creation of formal jobs, and to foster the creativity, innovation, and competitiveness of our enterprises,” the Instituto Mexicano de la Propiedad Industrial (Mexican Institute for Intellectual Property, in English) said in announcing the move.

IMPI also stressed that ACTA “does not contravene the human rights acknowledged in [Mexico's] Constitution and in international treaties to which Mexico is a party,” an allusion to some of the questions that have been raised by legislators and civil society in the past.

In addition, Rodrigo Roque Díaz, director of IMPI, has said that the Mexican government intends to ask Congress to develop legislation that would “jointly” protect those Internet users concerned that their privacy could be at risk under ACTA.

Even with IMPI’s assurances, the ratification process in Mexico is likely to face significant hurdles, with legislators opposing the deal pledging to do their utmost to prevent the pact from being approved during the next legislative session under the new Congress, which is set to convene for the first time in September.

“It will be our responsibility to prevent a deal like ACTA from being approved, as it is not the right way to achieve innovation and freedom,” Alejandro Encinas Rodríguez of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Demoratic Revolution, or PRD) told Mexican newspaper Milenio.

Activists have similarly promised to continue their efforts to stop the agreement from moving forward in Mexico. “We will not allow all of the work that was done [by the Plural Working Group last year] to reach such a broad consensus to just be thrown away,” Antonio Martínez Velázquez, a Mexican lawyer whose work focuses on the defense of internet freedom, told the El Economista newspaper.

Questions raised over future of ACTA in other parties

With the European Parliament voting by an overwhelming majority to reject ACTA earlier this month, the future of the anti-counterfeiting trade deal in the 27-member EU bloc has been left in jeopardy, despite the European Commission’s promises not to give up on the deal. (See Bridges Weekly, 4 July 2012)

However, the intense debate within the EU over ACTA has now begun to spill over into other ACTA signatories, raising questions over what effect these developments might have on the pact’s overall future. In Australia, a 27 June report from the Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties recommended that the deal not be ratified until a series of conditions are met, including an “independent and transparent economic analysis of its costs and benefits.”

Along with citing various concerns over the substance of the deal, the committee report stressed that Australian legislators should closely follow the pact’s ratification process within the EU and US, given their importance in the global economy, foreshadowing the potential ramifications that the European Parliament’s rejection - and the decision by some EU member states not to ratify the treaty on an individual level - could have on Australia’s ratification process.

“The international reaction to ACTA, which, without exception, comes from countries which the Committee considers would have the same interests as Australia, must also be taken into consideration,” Committee chair Kelvin Thomson MP said.

ICTSD reporting; “ACTA en México, un ‘muerto que podría revivir,’” EL ECONOMISTA, 5 July 2012; “México firma ACTA; activistas rechazan su aplicación,” EL ECONOMISTA, 11 July 2012; “Mexico signs anti-piracy treaty, setting up battle with activists,” LOS ANGELES TIMES, 13 July 2012; “Reprueban senadores firma del ACTA; advierten electos que no pasará,” MILENIO, 12 July 2012; “Trade treaty struck down,” SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, 28 June 2012.

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