Trade Minister Damien O'Connor with his UK counterpart, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, at NZ House in London to mark the signing of the UK NZ Free Trade Agreement.

An almost generational schism has opened up at Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Trade and Defence Committee as it begins its hearings on the New Zealand – United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement.

Much of yesterday morning was spent debating issues surrounding intellectual property.

It was left to a leading trade lobbyist to remind the Committee that trade agreements were actually about trade.

But there was also a recurring complaint that the whole process of considering the agreement was being rushed.

Long time trade agreement critic, Professor Jane Kelsey, was not only predictably critical of the agreement, but she was also particularly critical of the cursory examination the Committee is giving the agreement.

She said submitters had ten days to prepare their submissions and then only 10 minutes each in front of the Committee.

Maybe she hasn’t been submitting to Select Committees recently, but this is becoming the trend now in most.

There will be many who will sympathise with her claim that the process is a farce and would support her invitation to the Committee to reconsider its process.

“I want to invite each member of the committee and the chair to reflect on whether, in fact, in the way you’re conducting these reviews, you are fulfilling your constitutional responsibilities under standing orders to conduct an examination of the agreement,” she said.

“Because in my view, you are not, and this needs to change.”

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Kelsey was not alone.

A key submitter yesterday, Melanie Johnson, chair of the Library and Information Association, New Zealand Aotearoa Copyright Standing Committee, who wants a much tighter copyright restriction proposed in the agreement “excised” from the agreement, was concerned that the Committee was simply seeking to rubber-stamp the agreement.

The extension would move the term a work was copyright from 50 years after the death of the creator to 70. Under the Free Trade Agreement, this would apply to work produced in the UK and to New Zealand work consumed in the UK.

This should not be a rubber-stamping process, but a true examination of the agreement and particularly the copyright aspects of it,” Johnson said.

“How much is this a result of lobbying by UK rights owners?

“New Zealand has a reputation for doing what is right for New Zealanders and not being bullied by the superpowers.”

Johnson said University of Auckland English Professor, Roger Horrocks, had observed that we had only begun to build a substantial body of English language literature, music and art from the 1930s depression and the Second World War onwards.

“Libraries provide a valuable service to users by preserving, finding and making available not just books, but images, audiovisual content, research output, sound recordings, ephemera, much of which develops and affirms our cultural identity,” she said.

“Limiting the public domain deprives the public of a storehouse of raw materials from which individuals can draw from to learn and create and potentially make us not so dependent on the primary produce that this agreement privileges.”

There were more protests about the rushed process at the Committee from Nga Taonga, the sound and vision archive.

In their written submission, they said they supported the submission of the National Library, in whose building they are housed.

“Like National Library, the ability of Ngā Taonga to respond in more depth on this significant proposed change has also been adversely affected by the impact of Covid-19 as well as the protests in Parliament grounds and the surrounding area which significantly limited the business of those organisations working within the National Library building,” they said.

But they too opposed the extension of the copyright term, arguing that it would make their already difficult task of tracing all the copyright holders of audiovisual work. They said that between five and 10 per cent of Nga Taonga’s budget was now spent on legal services to resolve copyright issues.

There was, however, support for the British demand for the copyright extension.

Paula Browning, the Chief Executive of  Copyright Licensing New Zealand, said The UK had a gold standard approach to intellectual property and a fir for purpose copyright term.

Her only complaint was that the 15-year phase-in of the new copyright term was too long.

But the whole question of intellectual property was also at the heart of a clash between the First Union and the Researched Medicines Association.

The Union supported Kelsey’s complaints about the rushed progress of the trade agreement through the Committee.

“While NZ was struggling with the peak of its Omicron surge, this Committee announced a mere ten days for interested parties to submit when it called for submissions on the 1700 page document,” the Union’s submission said.

“Suffice to say; this is an absolute travesty of democracy.

“It is clear that the Government is being driven by a different timetable than that of the NZ people.”

The Union’s researcher and policy analyst, Edward Miller, said that the reason for the rush was that it seemed New Zealand was trying to get a deal with the UK in sync with Australia.

“We have the need for an independent foreign policy and independent trade negotiations, and that should be paramount ahead of those other concerns,” he said.

“I think it’s really important to raise the issue of vaccine equity on the global scale.”

Miller referred to the campaign for a TRIPs waiver on Covid vaccines.

TRIPs is a WTO acronym for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property, and a waiver for Covid vaccine was proposed by India and South Africa a year ago in order to ensure that, during this pandemic, intellectual property rights could not become barriers to affordable access to health products including vaccines essential to combat Covid.

More than 100 countries, including New Zealand, back the waiver at the WTO, but the UK opposes it.

However, the US under President Biden supports the proposal and is a spokesperson for the US Trade Representative two days ago, said the US was working on getting a compromise agreement that all 164 WTO members could support.

“We pushed the government for a really long time on trying to do this, and it wasn’t until the US moved that New Zealand decided to move again,” he said.

“We don’t have an independent trade policy if the dictates of our trade policy are set by Washington rather than Wellington.”

But any notion that New Zealand was in thrall to the dictates of Big Pharma might have been dispelled with a submission from Medicines New Zealand, which represents the major pharmaceutical companies.

Their CEO, Dr Graeme Jarvis, argued that New Zealand was becoming an international outlier in its approach to intellectual property protection for pharmaceutical products.

He was concerned that the five years protection offered by New Zealand was partly eaten up by the length of time it took for new drugs to get regulatory approval. He said two years was common.

When that happened in the UK, the pharmaceutical company had its protection period extended by the time it took to get regulatory approval, but New Zealand did not do that.

Jarvis said this could have long term implications.

“These are products that are really cost-effective and very beneficial,” he said.

“We are not we are not getting them here.

“And the companies are going to say, if you don’t value innovation, if you don’t value innovative products, what is the point?

“That is a concern that I have longer-term.”

But the debate about the more esoteric nature of trade in intellectual property  appeared to be starting to frustrate some of the more traditional trade lobbyists with their concerns about exports of physical goods.

The CEO of the New Zealand International Business Forum, Stephen Jacobi, was happy to put the traditional raison d’etre for trade agreements to the Committee.

“These are trade agreements,” he said.

“They are there to put in place more trade.

“I know it’s an incredible assertion.

“And indeed, when you look at trade agreements around the world, you sometimes wonder if that is the case.

“They are actually there to facilitate business.

“And so market access is the heart of any trade agreement.

“It is about providing opportunities for our exporters, but also for their workers and for the communities that depend on them.

“What always amazes me when we sometimes hear criticisms of trade agreements is that it’s as if these small things, like market access and the needs of business, can just be put to one side for a minute while we concentrate on these other issues.”

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