In 2007, the EU and a number of other WTO members began work on a new international agreement – the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). This initiative is related both to the Lisbon Agenda (under which the Commission identified intellectual property as one of EU’s key competitive assets) and to the Global Europe strategy (of which better enforcement of IPR is one of the key objectives).
The negotiating parties of ACTA were a mix of developed and emerging economies: Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and the United States. It is hoped that major countries facing the same counterfeiting and piracy problems will eventually join.
The EU’s objective with ACTA partners is to have a new plurilateral treaty improving global standards for the enforcement of IPR, to more effectively combat trade in counterfeit and pirated goods and help in the fight to protect consumers from the health and safety risks associated with many counterfeit products. This goal is pursued through three primary components of ACTA: (i) international cooperation; (ii) enforcement practices; and (iii) legal framework.
Discussions about the Agreement started in 2007; formal negotiations were launched in June 2008. 11 rounds of negotiations took place, between June 2008 and October 2010. On November 15, 2010, participants in the negotiations announced that they had finalised the text of the Agreement. Following legal verification of the drafting, the proposed agreement was submitted in early 2011 to the participants’ respective authorities to undertake relevant domestic processes and ACTA became open for ratification. The European Parliament needs to approve the Agreement as well.
In March 2010, the European Parliament adopted a quite negative resolution on the transparency and state of play of ACTA. In November the EP adopted another resolution, this time expressing support for the Agreement. In April 2011, a political group of the EP asked the Parliament’s President to refer the ACTA to the Court of Justice of the EU in order to make sure it was in line with the community acquis. As the ratification opened and ACTA started its parliamentary process, the debate raised firther controversies. In March 2012 the International Trade Committee of the EP, responsible for the file, decided not to refer ACTA to the CJEU but rather to follow the established procedure. A number of Committees will present their opinions and the INTA Committee is expected to adopt its report on 30 May, while the plenary vote shall take place in June. Several political groups have openly called for the rejection of the treaty.
Meanwhile, the Commission, under pressure from the EP and the public reaction, decided in February 2012 to refer ACTA to the CJEU; the decision, made formal in April, suspended the ratification process.
ACTA has sparked a strong opposition on behalf of activists on the front of the freedom of the internet and by a number of MEPs, concerned by the alleged secrecy of the negotiations and by the effects that certain provisions of the treaty could have on fundamental rights and freedoms, according to some analysts. The Commission has always refuted such accusations, confirming that ACTA will not affect the acquis.