White House says trade deal would curb cyber theft

The White House is promoting its sweeping Asia-Pacific trade deal as a tool to fight the rampant cyber theft that originates in the region.

After weeks of anticipation, the Obama administration on Thursday finally released the full text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free-trade agreement between 12 Pacific Rim nations. The deal spans 30 chapters and more than 2,000 pages.

{mosads}One chapter focuses on intellectual property (IP).

“The Asia-Pacific also presents critical challenges from an IP policy perspective,” the administration said in the chapter summary. “Regional piracy rates remain high, and cyber theft of trade secrets is rapidly growing.”

The section includes provisions to curb the digital pilfering of trade secrets. American businesses say this type of theft is eroding their global competitive advantage, and have been pushing the government to act. The White House insists the TPP can help.

“The Intellectual Property chapter requires TPP Parties to provide for the legal means to prevent misappropriation of trade secrets, including misappropriation conducted by state-owned enterprises,” the chapter summary said. “It also requires TPP parties to establish criminal procedures and penalties for trade secret theft, including by means of cyber theft.”

But cyber experts and the White House agree that most of the cyber thievery is coming from China, which is not a partner to the TPP agreement.

The 11 other countries signed to the deal — Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Vietnam, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore — are not seen as major hotbeds of commercial espionage.

The White House is likely hoping the agreement could put pressure on Beijing to cut back on its massive cyber theft campaign.

President Obama has said China has already made inquiries about becoming part of the TPP if Congress approves it. But the Asian power would likely have to make pledges to cut back on corporate snooping and convict more domestic hackers as a condition for joining.

Chinese officials already moved in this direction during President Xi Jinping’s recent state visit. Following their meeting, Xi and Obama said the two sides had agreed to a “common understanding” to eliminate any corporate hacking, although some cyber specialists say China has already broken its promise.

Congress will have at least 90 days to review the TPP deal before voting on it.


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