Trade deal may be bad for consumers

TOM PULLAR-STRECKER
Last updated 07:55 21/05/2013

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Trade Me has joined 31 consumer and lobby groups from New Zealand and overseas in writing to Trade Minister Tim Groser to voice concerns about the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement.

The company is a member of the New Zealand-born umbrella group the Fair Deal Coalition, which was set up last year during the Auckland round of the negotiations to lobby against possible provisions in the yet-to-be-completed trade agreement.

The coalition fears the trade agreement could unduly strengthen intellectual property rights, for example by extending copyright by 20 years and introducing new controls on parallel imports.

In its letter, the coalition asked Groser to reflect on the "variety of sectors" that stood to be adversely affected by such provisions. "As a group we are diverse, but we share one thing in common: we seek appropriately balanced intellectual property laws," it said.

Trade Me spokesman Paul Ford said the firm backed the coalition because it was concerned the agreement could "result in a crappy deal for both Kiwi consumers and a decent chunk of the Trade Me community".

"We reckon parallel importing is pretty important to New Zealanders as it means Kiwi sellers can source goods direct from licensed suppliers around the globe, so buyers get more choice and, with any luck, better prices too," he said.

The Fair Deal Coalition has attracted support from advocates in six of the 12 countries which are party to the trade negotiations, including the United States, Canada and Australia.

The group's founders include Consumer NZ, InternetNZ, the Royal NZ Foundation for the Blind and the Telecommunications Users Association.

The coalition said it had gathered 15,000 signatories in less than a week for an online petition that calls on decision-makers to "reject copyright proposals that restrict the open internet, access to knowledge, economic opportunity and our fundamental rights".

Maira Sutton, a policy analyst at the US-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is a coalition member, said yesterday that it had tried to ask negotiators gathered in Lima in Peru for the fourth round of negotiations about the changes the trade agreement could make to the treatment of copyright "but ultimately did not get any clear answers".

Consumer NZ spokesman Hadyn Green said his group believed the trade deal's documents had provisions "which may remove parallel importing in New Zealand". That would mean retailers could no longer import copyright goods, from software to branded clothes, without the permission of the manufacturer, which Consumer NZ feared would push up prices for many products.

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But Green acknowledged his information was second-hand and it was not clear if such clauses had made it through to a draft agreement or were simply on the wish- list of some countries' trade teams.

A Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry spokeswoman said last week that the parallel importing of copyright works had been raised in negotiations but there was no consensus among the negotiating parties on whether an agreement "should include specific provisions on this issue".

Green accepted the Fair Deal Coalition was boxing at shadows.

"This is the unfortunate reality. We aren't being told what is in the agreement."

Telecommunications Users Association chief executive Paul Brislen said the Fair Deal Coalition was "about keeping the internet open and free".

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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