The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) is reviewing its current dealings with South Africa based on intellectual property concerns.
In a statement on Friday (25 October), the group said that it would review South Africa’s eligibility to participate in its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) based on a petition it had received.
The GSP is the largest and oldest US trade preference program.
It is designed to promote economic development by allowing duty-free entry into the United States for 3,500 products from the 119 designated beneficiary countries and territories.
To remain eligible for these advantages, beneficiary countries must comply with 15 statutory eligibility criteria that are important to US interests, including taking steps to afford internationally recognized labour rights, providing adequate and effective protection of intellectual property rights, and assuring equitable and reasonable access to its markets.
Why South Africa is being reviewed
The USTR said it is reviewing South Africa after accepting a petition from the International Intellectual Property Alliance.
The petition outlines concerns with South Africa’s compliance with the GSP’s intellectual property criteria in the area of copyright protection and enforcement.
While the USTR did not comment on the contents of the petition, the International Intellectual Property Alliance has previously raised concerns about the Copyright & Performers’ Protection Amendment Bill which is awaiting presidential approval before being signed into law.
The bill’s primary aim is to provide fair compensation to publishers, artists and film producers.
However, the bill has also come under intense scrutiny as some provisions allow for the ‘free use’ of certain copyrighted material.
In an August 2019 letter – signed by the Motion Picture Association (MPA) and the International Confederation of Music Publishers (ICMP) among others – a number of international bodies asked that Ramaphosa take the bill back to Parliament for a ‘proper, sector-specific impact assessment and meaningful consultation with affected stakeholders’.
“The South African Government has committed itself to modernising South African copyright law to bring it into line with the WIPO Internet and Beijing treaties, which South Africa intends to ratify,” it states.
“Our communities fully support these policy aims. Regrettably, the Copyright Amendment Bill and the Performers’ Protection Amendment Bill, as currently drafted, would not only fail to achieve these stated aims but they would instead undermine South Africa’s creative communities.
“The proposals contained in the bills would, if adopted, limit the creative sectors’ ability to protect their rights and invest in South Africa, substantially weakening the South African internal and export markets for creative content.
“This would harm South Africa’s creators, its strong creative culture and, ultimately, its citizens.”
Warning signs were there
Copyright lawyer Carlo Scollo Lavizzari has previously warned that the bill will lead to South Africa breaching its international obligations, causing unnecessary diplomatic stress and damage to the economy.
“(The bill) translated into the real world, will damage filmmakers, musicians, authors, TV productions and software businesses by diminishing access to publishing for authors locally, forcing them to publish for overseas audiences,” he said.
He said that this would decimate the local film and music industries.
“For South Africa to come ‘first’ the country needs to have a first-rate, up-to-date copyright act that benefits the creative sector.
“Today, having sound laws on copyright is simply the price of entry a nation pays to compete for talent.
“Respecting world standards of copyright protection in the digital world is no contradiction to offering world-class opportunities for creators and knowledge workers — it is actually a pre-condition.”