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Synthesis/Regeneration 26   (Fall 2001)

Excerpts from the Joint NGO Statement on the
Review of Article 27.3 (b) of the TRIPs Agreement

We, the undersigned social movements, citizen groups and non-governmental organizations, express our concern over the attempts to prevent a substantive review of Article 27.3 (b) of the TRIPs Agreement.

Article 27.3 (b) lies at the core of the debates surrounding patenting of life forms, the effects of IPRs on farmers’ livelihoods and food security, local communities rights and access to resources, and the environmental effects of IPRs. Article 27.3 (b) facilitates the mis-appropriation, by Northern corporations, of the traditional knowledge and biological resources originating from the South. This biopiracy of the South’s resources is an ironic twist of the TRIPs Agreement, which promised to facilitate transfer of technology from the North to the South but instead is now being used by corporations in the North to obtain private ownership rights over the South’s resources and knowledge.

There is a growing public objection to Article 27.3 (b), which not only facilitates but makes it mandatory for all WTO member countries to patent certain life forms and living processes. This is unacceptable from the ethical, environmental, social and developmental perspectives. We note with encouragement that many developing countries have also come to the same conclusion and that some of them have strongly voiced their demands that Article 27.3 (b) should be revised.

African Group proposal

In particular, we note that the African Group of countries in the WTO has proposed that Article 27.3 (b) should be amended to clarify that life forms and living processes cannot be patented. A number of other developing countries in the WTO have supported this position. Unfortunately, there has been strong resistance from the US, which would like to maintain the position that life forms can be patented, and indeed, some must be patentable. This position, if maintained, will lead to serious consequences.

The situation is very serious and requires urgent action. We therefore strongly support the position taken by the African Group on the review of Article 27.3 (b), as contained in the paper submitted by Kenya on its behalf (WT/GC/W/302, dated 6 August 1999). The African Group has clearly laid down the approach and content of the review, and should therefore, be followed. This is summarized below:

The review of Article 27.3 (b) must be one of a substantive nature, not merely of implementation. In such a substantive review, the following issues should be clarified:

  • Relating to the patenting of life, there should be a clarification that plants, animals, microorganisms and all other living organisms and their parts cannot be patented, and that natural processes that produce plants, animals and other living organisms should also not be patentable.
  • Relating to the option of establishing a sui generis system for protection of plant varieties, Article 27.3 (b) should be clarified with a footnote which states that sui generis laws for plant variety protection can provide for protection of innovations of indigenous and farming communities in developing countries, preserve traditional farming practices (including the right to exchange and save seeds), and prevent anti-competitive rights or practices which may threaten food sovereignty of developing countries.

To Patents on Life in TRIPs by Martin Khor and Cecilia Oh, Third World Network, in this issue of Synthesis/Regeneration.

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