Collapse of WTO talks washes away hope for TRIPS changes

AUTHOR: William New
PUBLICATION: Intellectual Property Watch
DATE: 29 July 2008

Comment from GRAIN:

The fact that the proposed negotiating mandate for an amendment to the
TRIPS Agreement regarding biodiversity got "washed away" with the
collapse of WTO talks in Geneva last week is good news. The proposal to
amend TRIPS, first tabled in 2006 and now supported by over 100
countries, has no social backing, as far as we know, and goes in the
completely wrong direction. Rather than roll back the patent system from
its illegitimate incursion into the very basis of food production --
seeds and breeds, not to mention microorganisms -- it would reinforce
it. As part of the unrelenting stampede of privatisation, the amendment
aims to inject some "balance" into TRIPS by saying "Ok, you can patent
biodiversity and traditional knowledge -- as long as you pay for it!",
with the cheques presumably expected to be made out to developing
countries governments. This would constitute a clear and resounding
"yes" to patents on life by nearly 160 governments under binding
international trade law, with no room for backsliding. It would also
extend the scope of the WTO TRIPS Agreement to traditional knowledge.

The political meaning of this proposal should not be taken lightly.
Rather than respect the rights of farmers, indigenous peoples and rural
communities for whom traditional seeds, native livestock, indigenous
knowledge and the local cultures they are intertwined with constitute a
collective heritage, it would turn them into corporate property at the
highest level yet. And because it amounts to saying "yes, if", this move
would signal the end of any resistance towards the patenting of life by
nearly all governments.

Rather than amend TRIPS to embrace patents on life and traditional
knowledge by putting a price on them, TRIPS should be amended to make
patents and similar forms of monopolies on biodiversity and people's
associated knowledge absolutely illegal. It's either yes or no. The
current momentum of the governments at WTO is towards yes. That is the
wrong direction. The fact that not one soul is out in the streets
cheering them on speaks loudly to this.

-- GRAIN, 6 August 2008

Intellectual Property Watch - 29 July 2008


By William New

Seven-year negotiations at the World Trade Organization collapsed today
after an intensive nine-day ministerial snagged on an agricultural
issue. And with the end of the Doha Round of trade negotiations for the
foreseeable future go the hopes of some members of amending global trade
rules on intellectual property to better prevent biopiracy and to raise
protection of distinctive goods deriving from particular regions, called
geographical indications.

These IP issues were discussed consistently by key delegations (IPW,
WTO/TRIPS, 29 July 2008:, but never rose
to the level of full negotiation during the WTO mini-ministerial in
Geneva that began on 21 July. The main issues remained agriculture and
manufactured goods.

The week included a number of preliminary agreements but contained a
deadly pill in agriculture. Talks fell apart after an agricultural
safeguard measure for developing countries to raise tariffs in cases of
import surges could not be resolved after 60 hours of deliberation. In
progressive press briefings, ministers from both sides of the issue
sounded particularly disappointed that a single issue would trip up the
whole round, but Indonesia on behalf of the Group of 33 developing
nations (which was represented by India in the group of seven
governments that carried out much of the talks) told reporters the group
as well as a majority of all developing countries tried in good faith to
come up with an acceptable text and were still engaged on the issue when
talks were ceased.

"It cannot be said the SSM [special safeguard mechanism] broke the
negotiations, because we were ready to negotiate," said Indonesia Trade
Minister Mari E. Pangestu. "We still strongly consider an agreement was
reachable." She named several other issues problematic to ministers,
including geographical indications. She also said talks could continue
at some point in the future.

Ministers and WTO Director General Pascal Lamy Tuesday night would not
predict whether talks would be resumed, but all agreed it would be
extremely unlikely to come by the target of year's end. "I don't think
there is any realistic chance of modalities being agreed this year or in
the foreseeable future, and that is a source of deep regret in Europe,"
said European Union External Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson.

But it may be decided at the formal Trade Negotiations Committee meeting
-- expected on Wednesday -- to capture all of the gains made so far,
which might include the IP issues, though they barely moved past
procedural questions of whether two issues have a mandate for negotiation.

The three IP issues under consideration are: 1) the establishment of an
international register of wines and spirits geographical indications --
product names associated with places and characteristics ("GI
register"); 2) the possibility of extending higher level GI protection
(TRIPS Article 23) to products other than wines and spirits ("GI
extension"); and 3) a proposed amendment to the WTO Agreement on
Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) that would
bring it in line with obligations under the UN Convention on Biological
Diversity (CBD), adding a requirement for disclosure of origin in patent
applications and possibly ensuring benefit-sharing with communities to
deter biopiracy ("CBD amendment").

The GI extension and TRIPS CBD amendment do not have clear negotiating
mandates in this round. All sides agree on negotiating the GI register,
which was mandated in the 2001 Doha Declaration, but they have been far
apart on details, especially legal matters.

While any continuation of this round, which began in Doha, Qatar in
2001, is unclear, ministers all stated their commitment to the WTO
multilateral system. Lamy said negotiations will always be conducted at
the WTO in some form, occasionally rising to the level of involving
ministers, which he said in his experience is often needed to achieve
real breakthroughs. But some mentioned a rethinking of the current
trading system, the WTO, and the focus of negotiations, which could move
to new topics like climate change.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen what will happen to the TRIPS issues.
One possibility is that focus could intensify bilaterally or at other
institutions such as the World Intellectual Property Organization.

William New may be reached at



"Draft modalities for TRIPS-related issues", 17 July 2008, contains the
proposed negotiating mandate to amend TRIPS that governments were trying
to push through during the mini-ministerial in Geneva (21-29 July 2008),
courtesy of IP Watch.

"Doha work programme: the outstanding implementation issue on the
relationship between the TRIPS Agreement and the CBD", Communication
from Brazil, India, Pakistan, Peru, Thailand and Tanzania, Geneva, 31
May 2006, was the first textual proposal for an Article 29-bis as
amendement to the TRIPS Agreement.

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