TPP a dead duck for parallel imports

MIKE O'DONNELL
Last updated 05:00 21/05/2012

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OPINION: Duck shooting season opened three weeks ago, and so far it's been a pretty fickle season.  

While Canterbury and Marlborough shooters have reported some good hauls, further north it's been decidedly average.

While clear skies and sunshine are good news for most, they have worked against shooters in the Wellington region, giving the ducks decent visibility and affording them plenty of height.  

Shotgunners are now required to use steel shot for ''environmental reasons''.  Steel travels slower and delivers less impact than lead, so any ducks more than about 35 metres away are pretty safe.

A year ago, my daughters and I were treated to a near limit bag the first time we went out on the Manawatu River.

This year we ended up with one hapless mallard.  Not a great return on the money we had invested in ammo, licence and decoys, but a great day out nonetheless.

Interestingly, the amount you need to invest into duck shooting kit has dropped markedly over the last 20 years.  

When I first went duck shooting as a schoolboy in Timaru 25 years ago, a box of cartridges cost $25 (equivalent to $78 in 2012) and decoys were $35 apiece.  Today you can buy a box of 12 gauge shells for $14 and a dozen decoys for $90.

A key contributor to these reduced costs is parallel importing.  

This allows retailers and other parties to source goods directly from licensed overseas sources, rather than dealing with local licensees. In doing so, it delivers competition between sources of the same or similar goods, and real benefits to consumers.

Back in 1998, the Copyright Act 1994 was amended so that copyrighted goods lawfully made overseas could be imported into New Zealand without the consent of local copyright owners.  

This practice of parallel importing lowered the cost of a huge range of consumer goods, from Levi's through to L'Oreal.

Ironically parallel importing will likely be a victim of the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP), a multilateral free trade agreement which aims to liberalise the economies of the Asia-Pacific region including New Zealand, Australia, the United States, Chile, Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam.   

Supporters say the TPP will boost trade by $1.1 trillion, with the latest set of negotiations commencing in Dallas last week.

However, the benefits for trade which flow out of the TPP are accompanied by a whole set of obligations for intellectual property in New Zealand, including parallel importing.  As a result, it's likely local rights holders would be able to prevent parallel imports (and, consequently, increase the margin that consumers pay).

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The implications are far broader than just cheaper jeans and shampoo.  

According to leaked documents from the American TPP negotiation team, the United States is demanding a huge raft of changes to intellectual property law in New Zealand.  

This would see fundamental copyright changes in Godzone, including the return of the repealed Section 92A of the Copyright Act (guilt on accusation),  the removal of ''fair dealing'' for accidental copying (like when your browser hits copyrighted material), and a requirement for ISPs to give up customers' details when they receive a allegation from a rights holder.

After the pain and energy that the local internet and intellectual property industry has gone through to end up with a copyright regime that does a pretty good job of balancing rights with internet pragmatism, this would be a serious slap in the face.  

Not to mention a cost to consumers and a risk to all citizens.  

It appears our officials realise this and are providing solid pushback thus far.  

Other leaked documents suggest Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials have told the Americans that we wish to stick right where we are and not enter into any additional obligations around copyright.

If you think there's been a lot of leaking going on, you're not wrong.  

On his blog www.lawgeek.nz web lawyer Rick Shera suggests the leaks from the US Government are calculated attempts to expose extreme positions, allowing a graceful ''back down'' to terms that are still way more draconian than we have now.  He could be right.

Right now all we know for sure is that behind the free trade carrot being dangled in front of New Zealand exporters is a huge copyright stick that seems to ignore the internet rather than work with it.  

And it would likely make a dead duck of parallel importing as we know it today, along with  the end of cheap ammo and decoys for rednecks like me.

Mike ''MOD'' O'Donnell is a professional director, author and eCommerce manager.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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