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Patents on Life in TRIPs
by Martin Khor and Cecilia Oh, Third World Network
See Excerpts from the Joint NGO Statement on the
Review of Article 27.3 (b) of the TRIPs Agreement
The WTO Council for TRIPs (Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights) convened from November 27–December 1, 2000. As with the previous meetings of the TRIPs Council, the mandated review of Article 27.3 (b) of the TRIPs Agreement was on the agenda.
However, the negotiations on the review have been at a stalemate; with little progress being made since the review process started in December 1998. The US, EU and some other developed countries are still resisting a substantive review of Article 27.3 (b), which the majority of developing countries in the WTO have called for. The most comprehensive proposal from the developing countries is articulated in the paper by the African Group, and submitted by Kenya on its behalf, dated 6 August 1999 (WT/GC/W/302). The African Group’s comprehensive proposals have received much support from other developing countries in the WTO, as well as civil society groups, farmers’ movements and NGOs.
In August 1999, the “Joint NGO Statement of Support On the review of Article 27.3 (b) of the TRIPs Agreement” was issued. This Statement now has over 600 signatories from around the world. See Excerpts from the Joint NGO Statement on the Review of Article 27.3 (b) of the TRIPs Agreement
However, within the WTO itself and in the TRIPs Council, no real discussion has taken place on the proposals outlined by the African Group. The concern is that with each TRIPs Council meeting, the attempt has been made to sideline the African Group proposal, and to detract from a meaningful discussion on the merits of the proposal, and to avoid a revision of Article 27.3 (b).
Further, in September 2000 in a letter to Pascal Lamy, the EU Commissioner for Trade, NGOs demanded (among other things) that the EU change its negotiating position on the TRIPs review, to support the African Group proposal. At the recent TRIPs Council meeting, the African Group had again, in a paper submitted by Mauritius, dated 20 September 2000 (IP/C/W/206) reiterated their proposals.
It is therefore crucial that civil society groups around the world mobilize to pressure WTO member countries to break the stalemate in the TRIPs Council, and to press for a revision of Article 27.3 (b), as soon as possible. This pressure is needed now, because:1. The mandated review of Article 27.3 (b) represents perhaps the only real opportunity to change this provision that allows for patents to be granted on life forms. Such a review, if it is properly done, has the advantage of being more focused, thus encouraging a better analysis of the issues. A mandated review means that proposed changes can be negotiated without the risk of being traded off against other proposals on other agreements, as happened in the Uruguay Round negotiations.
2. The transition period for the implementation of Article 27.3 (b) expired on January 1, 2000. This means that the majority of the developing countries are now legally obliged to implement Article 27.3 (b) within their national laws. Otherwise, they face the imminent threat of being taken to the dispute settlement body of the WTO. Therefore, it is very important that a substantive review of Article 27.3 (b) gets under way, during which time countries must be exempt from implementing the provision.
3. Even now, patents on life are being granted almost indiscriminately by patent offices, mostly in the North. These patents distort a system that was originally intended for mechanical inventions, in order to grant corporations and individuals private rights and ownership over biological and genetic resources, traditional knowledge and genetically modified organisms, in order to obtain monopoly profits. The patent system is being used to facilitate the theft of biological resources and traditional knowledge from the South. The monopoly control over such essential resources will also have tremendous impact on food security and the livelihoods of farmers and communities in the developing countries.
The patent system is being used to facilitate the theft of biological resources and traditional knowledge from the South.
We believe that it is crucial for civil society groups to jointly make a clear demand for the revision of Article 27.3 (b) and to campaign actively for this demand to be met. Hence, we suggest the following actions for your consideration:
1. Sign on to the Joint NGO Statement on the review of Article 27.3 (b) of the TRIPs Agreement by sending your name, organization and address to the Third World Network (firstname.lastname@example.org).
2. Help disseminate this Statement, and ask others to sign on to it.
3. Join in the global campaign, No Patents on Life. Use the demands in the Statement to lobby your government to support the African Group position. In addition, start a campaign to build and spread awareness among other NGOs and the public on the No Patents on Life campaign.
4. Tell us about your campaigns and actions. Civil society groups around the world are campaigning against the adverse effects of the WTO Agreements and are joining the international WTO: Shrink or Sink campaign. They are also organizing various campaigns against specific WTO Agreements, including the TRIPs Agreement, the Agreement on Agriculture, the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), and so on.
These campaigns are organized in conjunction with the second anniversary of the Seattle Ministerial Conference, which will be on 3 December, 2001. Civil society groups around the world will demonstrate their solidarity in their campaign against the WTO Agreements. We hope that you will be able to play your role.