The concerns about the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) raised by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties in a unanimous report to Parliament last week have been reinforced by an overwhelming vote last night by the European Parliament to reject the Treaty.
The vote - 478 against, only 39 in favour, with 165 abstentions - is likely to be a fatal blow to the European Union's participation in a treaty it helped to negotiate. The European Parliament has responded to concerns that ACTA would limit Internet freedom and to street protests about this issue in Europe with concerns that the agreement would have permitted private companies to spy on the activities of Internet users.
The vote effectively ends the treaty’s ratification in the 22 member states that signed the agreement, since individual member states cannot join ACTA once the EU officially rejects it. The concerns expressed by the Treaties Committee have been reinforced by this vote, and it would be appropriate for the Government to put ratifying ACTA on the back burner and undertake the work recommended by the Committee.
In Australia the Treaties Committee has recommended that ACTA not be ratified by Australia until the Treaties Committee has received and considered an independent and transparent assessment of ACTA's economic and social benefits and costs, until the Australian Law Reform Commission has reported on its Inquiry into Copyright and the Digital Economy, and the Australian Government has issued notices clarifying some of the terms of the agreement.
In Australia a significant area of concern was the potential impact of ACTA on generic medicines. The pharmaceutical manufacturer Alphafarm, for example, has advised me that ACTA as drafted could have delayed access by Australians to "quality, safe, efficacious and affordable generic medicines" in Queensland, and that they view the Committee's recommendations as a win for Australians and for the sustainability of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
The Treaties Committee also recommended that Australia should have regard to ACTA's ratification status in the European Union and the United States of America, given their importance in the world economy. Given the overwhelming vote of the European Parliament, it is clear that the Committee's unanimous report is on the wavelength of European public opinion, and almost certainly global public opinion.