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Leak shows major divisions in Asia-Pacific trade talks

Michael Geist is seen in Ottawa on Thursday March 27, 2008. Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa who specializes in intellectual property issues, says that while the Obama administration hopes to reach an Asia-Pacific trade deal by the end of 2013, it’s clear from recently released documents that countries remain far apart in key areas.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Globe and Mail

The United States is demanding provisions under a proposed Asia-Pacific trade deal that would force Ottawa to make dramatic changes to its copyright laws and Internet enforcement, and to revisit key provisions of the agreement it recently concluded with the European Union.

In 12-country talks toward a Trans Pacific Partnership deal, the U.S. has proposed far-reaching changes to the way countries enforce patent, trademarks, copyright and even Internet usage, according to a draft chapter released last week by Wikileaks editor Julian Assange that shows various countries' positions.

Several paragraphs of the document outline U.S. efforts to impose its intellectual property regimes on other nations. These include extending copyright by 10 years and the push to have service providers cut off Internet access for those who violate intellectual property rights – provisions that Canada and other countries have opposed.

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While the Obama administration hopes to reach a deal by the end of 2013, it's clear from the document that countries remain far apart in key areas, said Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa who specializes in intellectual property issues.

"The prospects for a deal at least in a short term are not very good," Mr. Geist said Sunday. "Canada finds itself opposing the United States on many provisions in this chapter and the U.S. often finds itself pretty isolated."

Negotiators are due to meet this week in Salt Lake City for what has been billed as a major push toward concluding a deal, and ministers will convene in Singapore next month. The TPP agreement would cover 12 nations including Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Chile, Peru, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei and Japan.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew travelled to Asia last week to win support for the deal, and expressed optimism that negotiations can wrap up by the end of the year.

Toronto trade lawyer Lawrence Herman said the leaked document may not reveal the current state of negotiations.

"Leaks are quite common in trade negotiations like this but it's like chasing clouds, you never know what these leaks mean in the context of the talks or the true status of any of these documents," he said.

"We don't comment on leaked documents, and would caution Canadians against attaching credibility from draft, leaked documents," International Trade Minister Ed Fast's spokesman, Rudy Husny, said in an e-mail. "As always, in all our trade negotiations, Canada defends and promotes its interests."

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As outlined in the Wikileaks document, the U.S. is looking for a series of changes that are inconsistent with measures in the recently passed Copyright Act, amendments that took years for the federal government to shepherd through competing interests. The Americans also want tougher intellectual property rules on the Internet, essentially forcing service providers to become an enforcement arm of governments.

It would also establish new rules for "geographic designations" for food, such as Parmesan or Feta cheese, and wine and spirits. In the Canada-EU deal, Ottawa over-rode the objections of the dairy industry to meet European demands that they respect such place names as trademarks.

The release of the document has caused a backlash in Washington as well as in many foreign capitals, where critics complain of unreasonable American demands.

"There's no doubt it's doing harm. At a certain level, what the leak has demonstrated is that there was plenty to hide," Mr. Geist said.

In effect, the trade deal would impose measures in the Stop Online Piracy Act that the Obama administration had tried to get through Congress last year. Those measures were defeated after an uproar from defenders of Internet freedom.

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