Techdirt has been writing about major trade deals like TPP, TAFTA/TTIP and — most recently — TISA more than most. But there’s one that we’ve not mentioned so far: the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). As Wikipedia explains, RCEP is:

Between the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) (Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) and the six states with which ASEAN has existing FTAs (Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand). RCEP negotiations were formally launched in November 2012 at the ASEAN Summit in Cambodia.

As that makes clear, as far as participating nations are concerned, there is a big overlap between RCEP and TPP. The crucial difference is that the US is taking part in TPP, but not RCEP, while China and India are in RCEP, but not TPP. In this sense, then, they are rival free trade agreements, battling it out for economic supremacy in the Pacific region. Given the different views of the leading nations involved — the US on the one hand, China and India on the other — you might think the two trade agreements would be turning out to be very different, at least in certain areas. For example, as an interesting EFF analysis of a leaked South Korean RCEP document puts it:

We might then, expect that RCEP could be the “anti-TPP”; a vehicle for countries to push back against the neo-colonial ambitions of the United States, by proposing alternative, home-grown standards on the TPP’s thorniest issues such as copyright, patents, and investor protection. Some members of RCEP have indeed spoken out against the TPP because of its unbalanced promotion of strict copyright and patent laws, and some commentators have characterized RCEP and the TPP as competitors.

But based on yesterday’s leaks, the promise of RCEP pushing back against the TPP is being squandered. Instead, its IP chapter is turning out as a carbon copy.

Here are just a few of the proposals in the leaked South Korean document:

Prohibiting temporary copies of works in electronic form (a thoroughly misguided and anti-innovation provision that has even been erased from the TPP).

A prohibition on the Internet retransmission of broadcasts, mirroring proposals for a Broadcast Treaty that would inhibit the free use of public domain material.

Inflated awards for copyright or patent infringement, by calculating damages payable for the infringing works on the assumption that they were sold at full retail market value.

Criminal penalties for “commercial scale” copyright and trademark infringement, even where the infringer has not sought or made any profit from the activity.

Suspension of the Internet accounts of repeat infringers, and censorship of bulletin boards that are “considered to seriously damage the sound use of copyrighted works” (whatever that means).

As the EFF post rightly notes, these and the other ideas it lists are even worse than those found in TPP or ACTA, which is some achievement. So the question has to be: why has South Korea adopted this extreme position? The EFF offers an intriguing guess:

Having been pushed into accepting unfavorably strict copyright, patent, and trademark rules in the process of negotiating its 2012 free trade agreement with the United States, Korea considers that it would be at a disadvantage if other countries were not subject to the same restrictions.

If true, that would be a good demonstration of how intellectual monopolies like copyright and patents are not boons that bring benefits to those who embrace them, but banes that are imposed on others in order to hobble them. The South Korean chapter, with its revelations of just how bad things might be under RCEP, confirms once more the critical importance of leaks when negotiations with potentially far-reaching and global implications are conducted behind closed doors. Moreover:

Now that the text has been leaked and it has been revealed to be so atrocious, we can begin to build pressure for the negotiating countries to open up the process.

After all, it’s hard to combat a threat if you don’t even know it’s there.


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