TTIP Still In ‘Exploratory’ Phase On GIs; Data Flows Tied To Privacy Regimes 14/03/2014 by Monika Ermert for Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Press conferences, stakeholder meetings and presentations as well as picture-tweets about consultations have become a habit of the negotiators of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Still, after this week’s round of negotiations, answers to tougher questions like what are the chances of reconciling regimes on the protection of geographic indications or data flows and data privacy seem far from clear. After round four of the TTIP negotiations between the European Union and United States this week in Brussels, the lead negotiators could not offer anything that looks easy in the talks. Negotiators during this round covered market access – tariffs, trade in services and procurement -, regulation and regulatory coherence, plus potential joint “rules” for some areas like sustainable development, labour and the environment, trade in energy and raw materials and customs, EU lead negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero said during the press conference (see press release here). Both sides also were looking for regulatory compatibility in key industries like pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, medical devices, automotive and chemicals. Bercero pointed to interesting requests from the automotive sector for a study on safety equivalence during this week’s stakeholder meeting. If regulators come to mutual recognition of regulation in some sectors, that could undoubtedly be one of the most significant potential outcomes of the TTIP, he said. Bercero at the same time rejected the notion that industry was providing text to be directly included in the agreements. Negotiators also promoted their efforts to make TTIP beneficial for small and medium businesses. A joint EU-US leaflet published alongside the press release of this round made the case that TTIP is not just for big business. The CEOs of several US and EU-based SMOs are quoted as welcoming lower tariffs and eased customs clearance or compliance regulation. The leaflet authors also list “strong protection of their intellectual property” and “duty-free treatment of digital products, and consumer access to services and applications of their choice on the Internet” as of major interest for small and medium businesses. SMEs might receive an extra chapter in the TTIP and an SME committee in the future. US lead negotiator Dan Mullaney confirmed the interest in “to expand participation of SMEs in transatlantic trade.” [Update:] according to reports, the German government has raised a demand that investor-state provisions be left out of the TTIP. Such provisions allow private sector to directly challenge government policies seen as harmful to their expected investment benefits. Explorations in Feta and Parmesan Protection Answering a question on the ‘hot potato’ topic of protection of geographic indications, Bercero confirmed that geographic indications (such as brie cheese) were on the table this week. “It’s of great importance to the EU,” he underlined, acknowledging the “divergent approaches” on both sides. TTIP, he said, would be a “good opportunity to find a way forward,” but “we are still very much in an exploratory phase of our discussions.” Mullaney joined Bercero in pointing to “pragmatism” needed to resolve the issue, while at the same time explaining that products protected under the GI system in the EU did not only receive protection in the US under the trademark and other systems, but also “do very well in the US, sales have been increasing.” The EU and the US have fought over GI protection in a variety of platforms, such as at the World Trade Organization and World Intellectual Property Organization, and recently also in duelling over special protections under the new internet top-level domains .vin and .wine. [corrected] Questions on the nature of an IP chapter for the TTIP were not answered at press time. Both negotiators during the talk rejected the notion of categorical “exemptions” for products like hormone beef or chlorinated chicken. Beef and chicken did not need to be exempted as such, Bercero declared. Data Flows Yes, But Observe EU Data Legislation On another controversial issue, Bercero reiterated that TTIP is “not the right place to address the differences of view that need to be resolved as far as data privacy is concerned.” But the EU is “ready to discuss the flow of data,” which is “a core component of a modern economy.” “We also do it from the clear and simple promise that any personal data that flows has to be in accordance with EU data protection legislation, now and in the future,” Bercero said. The European Parliament this week also voted in favour of withholding consent for the TTIP if it does not fully respect EU data privacy rules. Mullaney also pointed to the indispensability of data flows for a modern economy, making the case that legitimate privacy regimes on both sides could be respected in a final compromise. After a workshop organised by the Green Party on the relation of TTIP and data protection, Ante Wessels, analyst for the non-governmental organisation Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII), warned that the US wants to “undermine privacy” with a proposal in the TTIP e-commerce chapter that would “prohibit local data storage” (see blog post here). Localization obligations for cloud and infrastructure providers are currently debated in various shapes and forms in the EU, but also other countries. The next round of negotiations will take place in Washington in early summer, Bercero and Mullaney said. 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