Countries negotiating a treaty to fight global trade in pirated goods released the text of a 99-percent complete draft of the pact.
“We are at the final stage—about to cross the finishing line,” said a European Union official close to the talks, who asked not to be named.
The secrecy in which the negotiations have been conducted has come under attack, prompting participating states to release a text even though some differences remain.
Negotiators will tidy up the remaining gaps by email in the coming weeks, the official said.
The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) does not change participants’ national laws on counterfeits, trademarks and patents, but seeks common ground among countries to enforce rules protecting intellectual property.
“This text reflects tremendous progress in the fight against counterfeiting and piracy—a global crime wave that robs workers in the United States and around the world of good-paying jobs and exposes consumers to dangerous products,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a statement.
He called on the nearly 40 participating countries to quickly finalize the agreement after reaching a tentative deal last week in Tokyo.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has estimated that global trade in counterfeit and pirated goods rose to $250 billion in 2007 from $100 billion in 2000.
Pirates and Property
The treaty covers the protection of trademarks and copyrights ranging from films and music on the Internet, to the design of fashion items and cars and medicines.
The treaty had been criticised by intellectual property activists who feared it could be used to impose tougher rules on developing countries than already agreed at the World Trade Organization, in particular threatening trade among poorer states in life-saving generic drugs.
In one area ACTA goes clearly beyond the WTO, drawing up rules for intellectual property on the Internet, which was not a commercial reality when the WTO started in 1995.
Contrary to the fears of some Internet activists, ACTA does not require signatories to impose measures such as France’s three-strikes rule cutting off Internet access to people who have illegally downloaded files several times. But it does allow countries to impose such rules if they want.
It also gives countries the right—but does not force them to use it—to require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) or groups such as YouTube to provide information to owners of copyright whose property has been pirated.
And while allowing customs officials to seize suspect goods at the border, even without a request from the rights holder or a court order, it permits states to exempt small quantities of goods in a traveller’s personal luggage from such searches.
The treaty exempts patent infringement, such as some generic drugs, from border searches even though countries can seize suspected pirated goods in transit.
India and Brazil have challenged the EU at the WTO over seizures of generic drugs, but EU trade spokesman John Clancy said such seizures had never been EU policy.
Negotiators reached a compromise in the treatment of “geographic indicators”—place names for wines and food that are a key concern of the European Union, but the EU, United States and some other states remained divided in the scope and treatment of some other issues.
The talks involved the United States, the EU and its 27 member states, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and two developing countries, Morocco and Mexico.
China, the source of much of world’s counterfeit goods production, was not a party to the talks.