The final draft of the long-awaited Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, a sprawling text of 30 chapters and over 2,000 pages, dedicates three of its chapters to issues that the tech world has called critical in the context of loosened international regulation: intellectual property, telecommunications and e-commerce.
A pact of 12 pacific rim nations — Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the United States and Vietnam, with the notable exception of global superpower China — the TPP establishes an enhanced legal framework for trade, cutting up to 18,000 international tariffs on made-in-America products in signatory nations, while simultaneously raising concerns about the implications of new rules on international data flows and the activities of white hat cybersecurity researchers.
“The Asia-Pacific … presents critical challenges from an IP policy perspective,” the U.S Trade Representative’s office wrote in the “Intellectual Property” chapter summary. “Regional piracy rates remain high, and cyber theft of trade secrets is rapidly growing.”
The summary claims that TPP has taken a “robust” stance on intellectual property issues, addressing patents for medicine and technology, trafficking of counterfeited goods and trademarks in “generic terms.” Notably, TPP requires signatories to establish copyright “safe harbors” for Internet service providers, a method that the summary says has in the past “contributed to the flourishing of the most vibrant Internet, entertainment and e-commerce industries in the world.” It is also the “first Free Trade Agreement to require criminal penalties for trade secret theft, including by means of a computer system,” an addition to the most recent TPP draft which reflects mounting concerns about cybersecurity and nation-state hacks.
Some industry representatives, including the Information Technology Industry Council, have lauded what they call the TPP’s progress toward a more open technological world.
“It is clear that the agreement addresses new issues critical to the continued growth of, and innovation by, the tech sector,” said Dean Garfield, ITI president and CEO, in a release. “For the first time in a trade agreement, there are provisions that prohibit restrictions on cross border data flows and local data storage, permit companies and individuals to use their choice of cybersecurity and encryption tools, and ensure the protection and enforcement of trade secrets.”
Other organization, however, have been quick to condemn the TPP as favoring large corporations over national interests. In a comprehensive review of the TPP text, Public Citizen, a left-wing lobbying organization, says the agreement “undermines internet freedom.”
“The text threatens to lock The United States into its current broken copyright rules that undermine access to knowledge, creativity, and autonomy over digital devices and content, and … export these rules around the world,” the report states.
The “prioritization of trade interests over privacy rights pervades the … chapter [on e-commerce] also,” stated the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The text of the TPP itself, despite criticism, retains a tone resonating optimism.
“Resting both on America’s long-held commitment to the free flow of ideas and on the value of the future digital economy to American growth, prosperity, and employment, [TPP] will address the emerging challenges to the integrity and efficiency of the global Internet, ensuring that it remains an open space for commerce, that consumers and Internet users have confidence in regulation for privacy and security, and that electronic commerce achieves its vast future potential.”