Free trade agreement talks progress well


The United States held the first round of free trade agreement (FTA) talks with Malaysia between 12 to 16 June 2006. The talks were held between US trade representatives and officials from the Malaysian Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI). The negotiations involved an exchange of data and gathering of information to identify areas of potential concern. The two sides expect the formal negotiations to be completed by early 2007.

According to reports, the first round of negotiations went smoothly. The second round, which will see the two sides go through the 22 chapters of the FTA in detail, is expected to take place in July in Washington. Intellectual property is likely to be one of the key chapters discussed.

The American Malaysian Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) and the US software industry strongly support the inclusion of an IP chapter in the FTA. They believe that this chapter should establish adequate, comprehensive and effective standards for IP protection and enforcement in Malaysia. IP rights protection is regarded as one of the main determinants for a commercially meaningful FTA which can provide significant opportunities for both the Malaysian and US industrial and business communities.

AMCHAM has, in its Public Submission report, highlighted several issues, including the strengthening of the enforcement provisions addressing optical disc piracy. It proposes that the Malaysian government adopt provisions similar to those found in the US-Singapore FTA, which, among other things, outline the remedies against piracy of audiovisual products over the Internet. AMCHAM also takes the view that mutually agreeable benchmarks for measuring enforcement results should be adopted based on the number of successful prosecutions and the level of deterrence of the sentences imposed, and not merely on the number of raids conducted. In addition, AMCHAM proposes that the duration of copyright protection be extended from the current life of the author plus 50 years to life of the author plus 70 years. It also strongly supports the government's initiative to set up a specialist IP court.

In relation to the pharmaceutical industry, it is proposed that the regulatory and legal infrastructure should be further enhanced. The implementation of data exclusivity, patent term restoration and patent linkage have been singled out as issues which need immediate attention.

Teo Bong Kwang, Partner, Wong Jin Nee & Teo, Kuala Lumpur

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