The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is a multi-stakeholder community that discusses a broad range of Internet issues, and seeks to identify possible shared solutions to current challenges. This year was the first year in which the spotlight fell on the use of trade agreements to make rules for the Internet behind closed doors, and a broad consensus emerged that this needs to change.
In an unprecedented focus on this issue, there were three separate workshops held on the topic—an EFF-organized workshop on the disconnect between trade agreements and the Internet's multi-stakeholder governance model, two more specific workshops on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and on the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), and finally a high-profile plenary session that was translated into the six United Nations languages and included on its panel two former trade negotiators, a Member of the European Parliament, and two private sector representatives, as well as speakers from EFF and Public Citizen.
Private sector panelist David Snead from the Internet Infrastructure Coalition said:
I think if you look at the recent history of trade negotiations, we have this long string of failed trade agreements, and trade agreements that have been really vehemently opposed by a number of people, the last of which is TPP. What does that indicate to me? It indicates to me that as someone who believes very deeply in the potential for free trade and the fact that free trade is good, that the system isn't working. If we can't get people behind the trade agreements, if we have people in the streets opposing the trade agreements, we need to find a better way to address their concerns, and for me the primary issue is one of secrecy. I think we've gone way overboard in classifying trade agreements and trade agreement texts, and there need to be methods for opening those up.
The attention now being given to trade at this important global forum comes not a moment too soon, as the intense push to ram Internet issues into international law through the TPP and TISA that we saw this year won't be dampened for long by the failure of the TPP. The narrative is that whether it takes effect or not, the closed TPP negotiations themselves have set a new standard for digital policies that countries in the Asia-Pacific region should uphold in order to participate in 21st century trade.
Thus today the sad news has come of Japan's pointless ratification of the defunct TPP, and the passage of associated legislation. Although we have not seen this legislation, we understand that it includes the extension of Japan's copyright term from 50 to 70 years after the death of the author, which makes today a very sad day for Japan's public domain. There remains a risk that other TPP countries such as Singapore—and even countries that weren't part of the original deal, such as Taiwan, province of China*—will soon also bring their domestic legislation into conformity with the requirements of this dead agreement.
On the other side of the world, three dozen university professors from around the world this week released the Namur Declaration [PDF], which echos the calls made at the IGF to improve the transparency and inclusiveness of trade negotiations, with a demand that the "interim results of the negotiations should be made public and accessible in due course, so that civil society is ensured full knowledge and a parliamentary debate can take place before closing the negotiations." This reinforces similar demands made in the Brussels Declaration on Trade and the Internet [PDF], that EFF and its partners released in February this year.
The world clearly recognizes that writing is on the wall for closed, secretive trade deals. As the principal and most powerful proponent of this outdated and undemocratic method of trade negotiation, the onus falls upon the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to listen to the public's demands and to respond. Following up on the strong consensus for change expressed at the IGF, EFF will be meeting with the USTR early in the new year to discuss how it can begin making the necessary reforms.
Update 12/15: we have since seen the text of the Japanese TPP implementation legislation (summary, full text, PDF), which indicate that the copyright provisions are in fact conditional on the TPP coming into effect.
(*) As part of EFF's application to become an accredited NGO at the United Nations, we have been requested to use that organization's official terminology: Taiwan, province of China.