NBN ownership, cherry-picking rules challenged by trade agreement

A WikiLeaks leak of documents from a new international trade agreement has raised potential consequences for NBN ownership and cherry-picking legislation should Australia sign the agreement.

Australia is said to be taking the leading role in negotiations over a new trade agreement that could impact on the ownership of the NBN, and unwind cherry-picking legislation designed to protect NBN's business model.

Earlier this week WikiLeaks published 17 documents from the Trade In Services Agreement negotiations being conducted between the US, the European Union, and 23 other countries including Australia.

Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb has said Australia has been playing a leading role in driving the TISA negotiations that he said are designed to improve trade of services between countries party to the agreement.

Among the documents released includes an annex on telecommunications services outlining the proposed rules governing telecommunications services within the party nations, should the agreement be ratified.

One clause outlines that regulatory authorities should be completely separate from telecommunications service suppliers. Australia, along with the US and several other nations have proposed that government-owned telecommunications suppliers, such as NBN, should get no favourable treatment than other services.

This directly challenges cherry-picking legislation implemented by the former Labor government that prevent high speed network operators from expanding their network unless that network is open-access and wholesale-only.

The text also suggests parties would not be able to impost restrictions on the foreign ownership or investment in telecommunications networks.

A second annex on electronic commerce also outlines that countries cannot require access to source code of software owned by a member of another party country as a condition of providing use of that software in the country. The one exception is for software used on what is designated to be critical infrastructure.

The draft agreement also seeks to prevent signatory countries from forcing companies -- such as telecommunications companies complying with mandatory data retention obligations -- to store their data locally.

It comes as earlier this month, Guardian Australia reported Australian MPs have been offered to view the draft text of the highly-secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement text, which has also been previously leaked by WikiLeaks. Similar to US politicians that have seen the contents of the agreement, Australian MPs are not allowed to disclose the text of the agreement.

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