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[ossig] Asia Commons, Day 3



This is long overdue report of Asia Commons, Day 3. Day 3 was a
continuation of the Open Space presentations.  I participated in the an
open space regarding alternatives to the current intellectual rights
regime. The participants suggested exploring an alternative
epistemological to intellectual rights. In part, the participants
justified this by outlining the current abuse of intellectual rights. I
don't see this as a sufficiently strong reason as the changes that led
to current intellectual rights regime are fairly recent and it did seem
that the older regime worked much better.

While the session was intellectually interesting, I personally don't see
an alternative view of intellectual rights being adopted widely anytime
soon due to the current vested interests (and, of course, one should
never discount Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs in describing human
psychological  drives, in this case, as it applies to knowledge creation
in the Commons).

I had a presentation on free trade agreements. We started off with a
discussion of copyright criminalization issues in India and Malaysia.
However, Vijayalakshmi requested for a background on the FTA's and its
dynamics for which Peter obliged by giving a good background on the
FTA's: the US is signing FTA's with countries as they could not exercise
sufficient leverage at WTO. IFAC is the main lobbying body in the US.
IFAC, while representing a large body of other organizations, is a
tightly focused group which promotes the interests of 21 main private
sector entities. Peter also mentioned that besides the intellectual
rights chapter in the FTA, the dispute resolution chapter is
particularly important.

Primarily, the FTA's exist to set a higher standard which is primarily
aimed to protect the US market, and that with each agreement signed, the
intention is to continually increase the standard of "protection"
afforded to US based companies. In particular, there are specific
objectives set for certain countries. Peter brought up the example of
the US trade negotiators aiming to abolish the Australian pharmateutical
regulations which were more liberal and fair compared to US based
regulations. Finally, he noted that the FTA is aimed to bring more
income into the US via royalties.

As a counter to IFAC in the US, some public interest groups and
individuals are taking action. Lobbying has been successful in certain
circumstances but there is no group with the lobbying power of the IFAC.
It was suggested that companies in the US whose interests do not
necessarily coincide with the interests of the FTA start lobbying
actions of their own. Litigation in the US was suggested as a method to
remove some aspects of the FTA provisions, but the efficacy of doing
this remains unclear.

As the intention is to sign a FTA with Korea, patcha brought us up to
date with regards to developments back home. He mentioned that there was
concern on the intellectual rights chapter as well as resistance from
civil society bodies, that ISP's and ICT companies are concerned by
organizing forums and analysis. He also mentioned that the digital
libraries in Korea are under pressure by the US to be shut down, and the
government position with regards to the FTA are kept under wraps.

The discussion shifted to the fast track authority until mid 2007 that
the current US administration has received from the US Congress. Peter
mentioned that by slowing down the negotitations such that it exceeds
the fast track authority of the current administration, it would be
possible to gain greater leverage of the situation as there is much
concern in the US Congress as to the direction of the FTA's.

All in all, it was a pretty good discussion and I enjoyed the
interaction of the participants.

Asia Commons came to an end soon after that. I came away with a strong
appreciation of analysis conducted by various people (Vijayalakshmi,
Lawrence, Peter come to mind) in this sphere and clearly, I have much
reading to catch up on!

Ditesh


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