Trading up

The Publishers Association has recently responded to the Department for International Trade’s consultation on the future of UK trade policy post-Brexit. We provided our thoughts on what a trade relationship with the US, Australia, New Zealand and the Comprehensive & Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) should look like. After all, the publishing industry is a global trade powerhouse and should be a key part of the UK’s export strategy.

The UK is the number one exporter of books in the world. Export income in 2017 increased by 8% to £3.4bn, accounting for 60% of (UK) industry revenue. The trade’s exports also generate a £1.1bn trade surplus annually, reducing the UK’s trade deficit by 2.2%. Much of the attention around publishing and international trade has focused on tariffs. We need to remain vigilant on this point, and we make clear in our submission that the government should maintain the long-standing principles around not charging tariffs on books and journals. Tariffs are not the primary threat for publishing and there are other points that we need to keep front of mind.

We asked the government to prioritise the protection of policy frameworks that have served the publishing industry well since the earliest days of book and journal creation, but also to consider including a new publishing chapter in future trade agreements. This is particularly pertinent as the IP chapters of recently concluded Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), such as the US-Mexico-Canada agreement, contain specific IP provisions for several industries and sectors, but not publishing.

Perfecting a publishing framework and embedding it in future trade policy will enable further trade, support development at home and abroad, and advance the UK’s soft power/cultural influence.

Support the (global) status quo. The publishing chapter is split into five objectives. The first objective is to support IP global treaties and norms. Any future trade agreement must be compatible with, and supportive of, global legislation like the Berne Convention and the WIPO Copyright Treaty, the terms of which are the legal bedrock of the UK’s publishing industry and IP-rich sectors.

Be clear about the purpose of IP. We are concerned about attempts in recent FTAs (including the recent US-Mexico-Canada agreement and the CPTPP) to re-frame IP in a way that suits the interests of the digital sector. We have, therefore, urged the government to adopt neutral language about the objectives of IP in trade policies. This wording must be reflective of our national IP laws, protecting creativity as well as technology and the needs of the UK’s business community and society more generally.

Protect and respect copyright. Thirdly, any new FTA must protect and respect copyright by supporting creators and all those engaged with creative work. This can be done by resisting calls to broaden copyright exceptions, to keep the balance between the private rights of the individual creator and the needs of society to have access to copyright works. The publishing IP chapter of an FTA must also include comprehensive copyright enforcement obligations, uphold freedom to contract and support collective licence organisations.

Maintaining regional and national exhaustion. The penultimate objective of the publishing chapter is to uphold European Economic Area regional or national exhaustion in future trade agreements. UK publishers will be less able and willing to create editions for export if our exhaustion framework allows them to subsequently be re-imported back into the UK. It is also possible that the domestic UK book market becomes devalued as editions of lower quality, or those designed for other markets, flood into UK bookshops.

Support freedom of speech and freedom to publish. The strength of the UK’s publishing industry, historically and today, is built on its commitment to free and open expression of thoughts and ideas. The UK government must incorporate these principles and values into FTAs and our trade policy more generally, as well as standing up for them. Doing so not only advances an inherent human right, but also limits the scope for state censorship or publishing restrictions to be used as a non-tariff barrier against UK publishing.

The upcoming future trade negotiations are an opportunity to explore how IP rights can be placed at the heart of the UK’s domestic and international policy agenda in ways that go beyond commerce. The UK is also known for the stories we create, which project Britain’s people, landscape, values and culture into the hearts and homes of billions, around the globe. They have enabled our country to exert unprecedented soft power to such an extent that our values, language, commerce and culture have helped to shape laws, politics and perspectives globally.

By supporting these key objectives and placing IP at the heart of the UK’s new trade policy, the government can not only write a new chapter for its FTAs but also a new chapter for UK publishing. And, in doing so, we can together ensure that the value and values of UK publishing, and our other world-leading creative industries, continue to be exported to every corner of the globe.