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What would Canada gain by giving in to Europe on intellectual property rights?

Embassy Magazine followed up this week on an article that ran in The Wire Report last Monday about a leaked EU ‘Hymn Sheet’ proving the EU will use free trade negotiations with Canada to push copyright reforms we don’t need. Not only would the reforms sought by Europe, supported by its entertainment and pharmaceutical lobbies, be unnecessarily intrusive, they risk running the negotiations into the ground. “In a hotly contested area, to have fundamental business regulation made in this fashion is not sound,” says a former DFAIT chief economist. Unfortunately for Canadians, our own pro-CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) business lobbies think Canadian negotiators should think primarily about what will make EU companies happy.

“The reality is, what would be the point of an agreement if it doesn’t address the concerns of the business community?” asks Jason Langrish with the Canada-Europe Roundtable for Business (CERT) in the Embassy article. “The concerns of the business community are the barriers that lie behind the border. They’re not just tariff issues but they’re also regulatory.”

Michel Geist of the University of Ottawa points out in the Embassy article and elsewhwere that Europe is home to far more peer-to-peer torrent sharing sites than Canada, and that the Canadian government is compliant with its international obligations on intellectual property. But the U.S. has put Canada on a blacklist of copyright abusers and the EU appears to be riding that wave, no matter how inaccurate, toward policy reform in Canada that is still hotly contested.

“The question of the public interest in this case demands that the process for regulating how that new technology is to be used,” adds Ciuriak in the Embassy article. “In terms of its impact on competition, that ought to be held wide open and take a considerable amount of time… [It should] not be subject to international agreements where, in point of fact, if the political desire to sign onto the trade provisions is sufficient, you then have a lot of bad regulations signed onto.”

But we know already that CETA is no regular free trade agreement. It is designed to be much more intrusive, aimed at restricting policy space within jurisdictions on both sides of the Atlantic (including cities). Curbing the power of corporations is not on agenda, despite its popularity (you could say its necessity) these days with anger over climate inaction and corporate bailouts.

The kinds of reforms being pushed on intellectual property rules by Europe and the United States can in fact strengthen monopolistic mega-firms (Big Pharma makes huge profits on inflated prices thanks to overly long patents) and stifle competition, instead of the stated goal of increasing innovation by protecting rights to technology. As I’ll say again and again, if we’re going to be pushovers on intellectual property, where else, and in return for what paltry new access, will Canadian and provincial negotiators give way to keep the EU happy?