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The impact of TRIPS, UPOV and Farmers’ Rights

Ethics requires that ways be found to share the resources and the benefits of modern biotechnologies. Faithful implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity can help to ensure that the necessary biodiversity can be maintained. The recently adopted International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources has the potential to counterbalance privatized patent or plant breeders’ rights over genetic resources (along with resulting commercial products under the TRIPS Agreement) with collective farmers’ rights over the same genetic resources. This treaty could serve to ensure that monetary benefits be equitably shared. The Panel also took note with interest of the recent legislation on this subject in India, which deals in a single legal act with Farmers’ Rights and patent or plant breeders’ rights.

Members of the Panel discussed efforts made or under way to overcome the inequality in the control and use of biotechnologies. Ms Lenoir presented a recent study made by a French working group that she chaired (“Relever le défi des biotechnologies”), containing proposals for an extensive increase in the resources provided by the French authorities for research and development, both public and private, while also ensuring the adoption of measures for solidarity with developing countries in this matter. Ms Tablada Romero gave a presentation on the relatively advanced stage of biotechnologies in Cuba, which is the result of an extensive investment in, and focus on, education that occurred almost immediately after the revolution in Cuba and is now providing considerable benefits. Ms Chen Chunming, discussing the use of GMOs in China, pointed out that the Chinese Government from the early 1980s had made development of appropriate biotechnologies one of its top priorities in the national science and technology area, and had invested heavily in research for that purpose, so that China now plays a pioneering role in developing countries. Five kinds of GMO crops have been introduced and the predominant crop is transgenic cotton. China has placed high priority on biotechnology research and development; the general view of scientists is positive towards the development of GMOs that could reduce the need for pesticides and fertilizers that cause river pollution and weaken environmental sustainability. The Chinese also hope that some GMO-derived varieties could reduce the use of water in rice production.

Mr Salleh, in a paper on the challenge of biotechnologies for developing countries, pointed out the dilemma of many developing countries, where the priorities are to provide basic amenities and food, but where advanced technologies and scientific personnel are lacking and finance for scientific research and development is very limited. Taking into account that advances in technology are moving ahead at tremendous speed, those who are unprepared will be marginalized and left behind, in spite of the fact that developing countries in the tropics are generally very rich in bioresources and biodiversity. One partial solution could be what he termed “smart partnerships” between institutions in developed countries and developing countries, based upon mutual respect, trust and a willingness to work together for mutual benefits.

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