9 March 2021

Access not Administrative Burdens: IFLA signs letter on special trade provisions for least developed countries

IFLA has lent its support to efforts to ensure that least developed countries continue to enjoy greater flexibilities and lower administrative requirements in implementing trade deals. Retaining these possibilities will support investment, and more favourable laws, for education and research, and the libraries that support them.

Countries sign trade deals in order to facilitate exchange between them. These can cover a wide variety of types of commerce, from agricultural and manufactured goods to services such as books or films.

These rules set out commitments to open markets (for example by reducing tariffs – taxes on imports), as well as to offer protections for individuals and companies trading across borders. In doing so, they can create obligations on governments, forcing them to maintain standards and implement controls, if they want to be able to trade with others.

These affect, for example, what administrative procedures governments need to put in place to comply with the rules, as well as what they can do in creating exceptions and limitations to copyright which enable the work of libraries, archives, museums, educators and researchers.

This creates the risk of facing least developed countries with obligations they may be poorly placed to fulfil, drawing resources away from investing in development. It can also limit the room for manoeuvre they have to pass laws in support of libraries and their users.

In response, the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) opens the possibility for least developed countries to enjoy an exemption from many of these obligations, at least until they reach a higher level of development.

This exemption, however, is not forever, and needs to be renewed periodically, with World Trade Organisation (WTO) members currently debating whether to do this.

IFLA has therefore signed onto a letter which underlines the importance of maintaining these exemptions.

In this, we support proposals already promoted by many countries at the WTO to prolong these provisions, and to ensure that countries leaving least developed status can continue to benefit from them for twelve years, in order to allow for a more gentle exit.

We encourage all governments to endorse these proposals. In particular at a time of economic hardship and uncertainty, it cannot be time to impose new costs and restrictions on those countries most in need of investment in education, research and cultural participation.

View the letter on our publications page. There is also a wider letter on access to knowledge to which sign-ons are welcome - contact us for more details. Find out more about IFLA's work on copyright globally.

CLM (Committee on Copyright and other Legal Matters), Access to information, Copyright exceptions and limitations, trade deals, World Trade Organization (WTO)

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