Two of the biggest threats to the Internet are two international agreements: the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). TPP continues to expand across the Pacific, with Mexico and Canada joining in the next round in New Zealand. With ACTA, it is increasingly doubtful that it was successfully defeated this summer. With these two agreements, both of which contain intellectual property (IP) provisions that would negatively impact digital rights and innovation, the country that sits at the center of play is Japan.
Over a month ago, the Japanese House of Representatives quickly and quietly passed ACTA, confirming suspicions that ACTA did not die with its defeat in Europe. In a period of just one month, both Japanese legislative branches ratified the agreement with effectively no real debate. While surprising for some, it was expected that the first nation to approve the agreement would be Japan, given the leading role it had played throughout the ACTA negotiations, including being the host for the ACTA signature ceremony. While they are the only country to ratify it since ACTA was signed by eight countries last December, the move does demonstrate that signatory nations have not deserted their efforts to follow through with this sweeping IP enforcement agreement.
Japan’s participation with TPP has been much more complicated. Although ACTA has gained more attention in Japan since its ratification, opposition to that agreement is dwarfed by the public outcry against the TPP. Demonstrations are continuing against ACTA and TPP, mainly fueled by the agricultural business sector, but more Japanese resources continue to emerge about the risks these agreements pose to digital rights. As it grows ever more politically unpopular with the public, it has become too risky of an initiative for the current administration to move forward. Despite this, Japanese business leaders have a strong interest in moving Japan towards joining the TPP.
The Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR), which leads US trade negotiations, understands this well. So in an effort to raise awareness and rally support for Japan’s entry into the trans-pacific agreement, the USTR held an event in Los Angeles a couple weeks ago for the Japanese community, titled "Japan and the TPP". The speakers were the Assistant USTR for Japan, Korea, and APEC Affairs, Wendy Cutler, and the Consul General of Japan, Jun Niimi. The event was an apparent effort by the USTR to convince Japanese business owners about the supposed benefits of the TPP for their trading enterprises.
Such events are not unique. The USTR has been holding events like these in the US and abroad, during visits to TPP negotiating countries such as Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand and an upcoming intercessional meeting in Mexico. Our best guess for the main motivation for putting on these community-focused events is for them to be able to say that they are meeting with public stakeholders and to deny that they are being opaque in these processes. Given that these meetings are often narrowly publicized, semi-private, and inconvenient to attend for the public, it does continue to raise the question as to what exactly the USTR means when they claim to be transparent.
For the most part, the evening was full of the same reheated rhetoric regarding the necessity and importance of TPP. There were however, a few notable comments made throughout the evening. The Consul General mentioned that the Japanese government see TPP as one of their top priorities, but that the barrier to entry is that, in addition to the public opposition to the agreement that has been brewing across Japan, there must be consensus of other negotiating countries to their invitation.
Cutler, an assistant to the USTR who had led negotiations over the Korea-US Trade Agreement, made the most interesting comment. She mentioned that when she started her job with the USTR over 20 years ago, only about a quarter of her time was spent meeting with Members of Congress to explain to them the status of negotiations and to relay their fears that the USTR’s negotiations would not undermine the interests of their constituents. Recently however, she claims that 75% of her time is spent meeting with Congress members.
What this means is that it more important than ever to continue putting pressure on members of Congression to represent our interests, and stand up against these secretive trade negotiations. Both the TPP and ACTA are instruments that would extend IP in a way that poses a threat to our Internet freedoms, and the opposition movement is slowly gaining momentum in Japan and around the world. While the Japanese government is set on gaining entry to the TPP, it’s heartening to know that public opposition is successfully holding up their plans.
Please help us keep the pressure on US Congress, and let them know that we demand these negotiations be made truly transparent and inclusive of civil society and public interest groups.