Stop the Secrecy

Update: Controversial CETA Negotiations Hurtling Towards Conclusion

Fri, 10/26/2012 - 14:56 -- Catherine Hart

We’ve been keeping you updated on the developing concerns over the Canada- EU Trade Agreement (CETA), and today is the last day of what may well be its final round of negotiations. We still know very little about what is actually in this agreement, and whether the restrictive Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement provisions that were so loudly protested against by the Internet freedom community, are indeed being reproduced word for word in CETA. La Quadrature du Net and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have both asserted that ACTA provisions are still in CETA, while negotiators promise that this is not the case. The only way to know for sure is if negotiators end the secrecy around this trade agreement and make the documents publicly available.

Canadian trade minister Ed Fast is hoping for the agreement to be signed and sealed by year end, and that the current negotiations in Brussels may be the final word on the matter. Fast is overseeing what Macleans has referred to as “the Conservative government’s aggressive trade agenda”, which includes CETA, the equally secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the almost unheard-of Canada-China trade agreement, FIPA.
While ACTA was met with loud opposition in Europe, Andrew Gardner at European Voice notes that the CETA negotiations have not received much attention. However a campaign criticising the talks is mounting in Canada. The Internet freedom community needs to let our governments know we will not accept secretive back-room dealings that negotiate away our online rights, and that could negatively impact our cultures and our economies.
Some of the more controversial aspects of CETA are due for further discussion on November 9, and it is hoped that a final draft will be ready in late November. This discussion will not include the copyright provisions, which Ottawa Law Professor Michael Geist has suggested have already been decided. However he also notes that the border enforcement provisions have not been set, and so new regulations could be introduced around copyright enforcement.
Conversely, La Quadrature du Net recently asserted that despite all the assurances, “[t]he EU Commission has confirmed that ACTA-like criminal sanctions are currently present in CETA”. These provisions would criminalize widespread social practices like not-for-profit sharing and remixing. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has made similar assertions, and notes that the Dutch government has opposed CETA moving forward in this way.
These are some very conflicting accounts regarding ACTA’s copyright provisions in CETA, and the confusion won’t be remedied until the negotiations are made transparent.
Bigger Picture
The time to voice these concerns is now, as Canada and the EU are committed to concluding these negotiations as soon as possible. Stuart Trew of the Council of Canadians reports that:
“Canada wants to finish CETA before February 2013 when the U.S. and EU are expected to begin their own comprehensive trade and investment negotiations. We’ve known from Day 1 the U.S. is Europe’s ultimate prize — Canada is just a stepping stone.”
Similarly Geist has noted the disconnect “between the aggressive timeline and the number of outstanding issues". Full, transparent, accountable consideration must be given to these complex and important trade issues, regardless of how keen Canadian and European negotiators are to conclude them
Support for Transparency
We need to call on the member states of these negotiations make the CETA documents publicly available, and to publicly take a stand against the inclusion of ACTA-like provisions. In Canada, Quebec has been leading the way in opening up the potential for transparency and the participation of civil society. According to Stuart Trew, Quebec has been the wild card in the federal government’s consultations with the provinces, “with the PQ government implying in media articles this week it may want to revise its CETA offers with help from civil society organizations.” 
This push for transparency is a great opportunity for a range of new opinions to enter the debate, and the CETA member states should follow Quebec’s example by conducting open consultations with its citizens.