Despite election, Australia continues TPP negotiations

Despite Australia being in the midst of an election campaign where neither major party has released a firm policy on copyright, officials with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are still negotiating with partner countries.

Australian officials participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations are continuing with their existing positions at the negotiation table, despite the two major political parties in Australia not indicating where they would stand on the issue of copyright after the election.

The TPP is an agreement that's currently being negotiated between Australia, the US, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore, aimed at simplifying trade between the 12 nations. Negotiations have been ongoing for close to two and a half years, with the TPP agreement said to be over 1,000 pages long, including a significant chapter relating to intellectual property and copyright.

That particular chapter has been one of the major sources of controversy for the agreement, with concerns raised that Australia would be forced to take a hard line on copyright exceptions, and that any TPP agreement would limit Australia's ability to overhaul its copyright law , which is currently under review by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC).

The latest round of talks was held in Brunei Darussalam last week, with the US indicating that the "majority of issues are now at an advanced stage". Although no timing has been given on when the agreement will be completed, it is expected to be wrapped up by the end of this year, although it will thereafter need to be signed and ratified by the participating countries.

At the same time, Australia is in the midst of an election campaign, with voting to be held on September 7. ZDNet has asked both the Coalition and Labor where they stand on the issue of copyright reform; however, neither party currently has a set policy. Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus indicated that the government would respond to the ALRC's review due out in November, while Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis said that no copyright policy issue had yet to be put to the Shadow Cabinet.

When asked about Australia's position on the TPP negotiations in light of the federal election, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade directed ZDNet back to an FAQ page stating Australia's position on copyright negotiation.

"The government is seeking provisions in the TPP that maintain our existing flexibilities on copyright 'limitations and exceptions'. Limitations and exceptions are legal flexibilities in copyright law that allow copyright works to be used without express permission from the copyright owner, for example for the purpose of research or study, journalistic reporting, and scholarly review. The government recognises the social and economic benefits of these flexibilities," it states on the page.

"We also recognise the need for flexibility so that the government can consider and implement any recommendations that may be made following our own domestic reviews. These include the current inquiry into copyright and the digital economy by the Australian Law Reform Commission, and the current review of technological protection measure exception."

After the last round of negotiations, a collective of civil groups concerned with the TPP negotiations, including the Australian Digital Alliance, said that there were still questions around when further meetings were planned for the negotiations, and whether stakeholders would be included in these meetings, after they were not able to question chief negotiators during the last meeting.