10/17/2012 04:26 EDT | Updated 12/17/2012 05:12 EST

Canada - EU Trade Negotiations Clouded by ACTA Concerns


The Canada - EU Trade Agreement negotiations continue this week in Brussels with both parties hoping to wrap up many outstanding issues. According to information provided by Canadian officials at a briefing earlier next month, the plan is to narrow the areas of disagreement to no more than ten issues, with ministers meeting in Europe in November to try to forge an agreement on the contentious areas. While patent issues will clearly be part of the November discussion, Canadian officials advised that the copyright chapter was largely concluded. In fact, when I asked directly whether the text would require changes to current Canadian copyright law, the response was that it would not.

Notwithstanding those reassurances, Canadian officials acknowledged the border measures issues were still unresolved. Moreover, days later a European briefing offered a somewhat different take on the copyright provisions. La Quadrature du Net, a leading European NGO, reports that the European Commission confirmed that the controversial criminal ACTA provisions were still included in the CETA draft.

The reports have sparked a wave of new concern (see here, here, here, here, and here) with suggestions that ACTA is "back from the dead in Europe."

The public backlash mirrors similar concerns this summer when reports first emerged that CETA contained many ACTA-like provisions. The European Commission denied the reports, maintaining that the text had changed as a result of the European Parliament's defeat of ACTA in July 2012, yet it now seems probable that ACTA provisions are part of CETA.

Reconciling the conflicting reports is possible, given that Canadian officials stated that no Copyright Act provisions would require change as a result of CETA. The inclusion of border measures and criminal provisions could require other legislative changes, resulting in a deceptive (albeit accurate) response. Indeed, Canadian officials said in August that the criminal ACTA provisions were still alive. The uncertainty and public concern raises the prospect of CETA facing serious opposition within Europe due to the copyright provisions. For example, the Dutch government has said it will not sign CETA if it includes ACTA provisions. While the patent issues are a major Canadian issue, copyright could emerge as a big problem for the agreement in Europe should ACTA provisions resurface within CETA.