Agricultural Trade Fact Sheet
Table of Contents


The TRIPS Agreement includes three items related to agriculture: geographical indications (Arts. 22-24); patent protection of agricultural chemical products (Arts. 70.8 and 70.9); and plant variety protection (Art.27.3(b)). The issues raised by Art.27.3(b) are of particular concern to FAO. The obligation of WTO Members to adopt protection to plant varieties, either by patents or by an effective sui generis system, or by any combination thereof, has important implications for the development of the agricultural economies and trade of developing countries. Many countries are seeking technical advice and assistance.


The CGRFA is the only permanent UN inter-governmental forum dealing specifically with matters related to the conservation and utilization of genetic resources for food and agriculture, and related technologies. In 1997, the Commission established working groups on plant genetic resources and on farm animal genetic resources. The working group on farm animal genetic resources was given the task of furthering the development of the Global Strategy for the Management of Farm Animal Genetic Resources, covering both technical and policy aspects of the conservation and sustainable use of farm animal genetic resources, which will include aspects of the regulation of access and exchange, intellectual property rights and trade. The working group on plant genetic resources was to examine the implementation of the Global Plan of Action (described below) and related follow-up activities. Currently, 160 countries and the European Community are members of the CGRFA.


The CGRFA monitors the implementation of the IUPGR, the first international instrument governing the conservation and sustainable utilization of agricultural biodiversity. This non-legally binding instrument was adopted by the FAO Conference in 1983 and 113 countries have adhered to it.

Through the CGRFA, FAO members have, since then, been involved in negotiations concerning plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, and related technologies, particularly in the context of the refinement of the IUPGR, through a series of agreed interpretations, and complementary resolutions. In particular, FAO Conference Resolution 5/89, unanimously adopted, recognized Farmers' Rights as the "rights arising from the past, present and future contributions of farmers in conserving, improving and making available plant genetic resources, particularly those in the centres of diversity/origin".

The agreed interpretations are now part of the IUPGR and seek to develop and maintain a balance between access to the new, commercial products of biotechnology on the one hand, and farmers' varieties and wild material on the other, as well as the interests of developed and developing countries, by balancing the rights of breeders (formal innovators) and farmers (informal innovators).

Intergovernmental negotiations are currently underway in the CGRFA for the revision of the IUPGR, in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), covering inter alia access to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, and related technologies, and the realization of Farmers' Rights. During 1999, there has been important progress in the negotiations in relation to Article 15: Farmer's Rights, where countries have negotiated and agreed a text without brackets. During these negotiations, many delegates recognized the connections with the provisions of the TRIPS Agreement, and a number felt that Farmers' Rights includes useful elements for the development of national sui generis systems.

A further issue in discussion is how to ensure that technologies developed on the basis of plant genetic resources are available on terms that are consistent with the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR), as required by Article 16.1 of the CBD. In addition, the CGRFA is also negotiating a Code of Conduct on Biotechnology, including a component on IPR.

During this process, FAO has provided the Commission with various technical studies and analyses of relevant topics, to facilitate the negotiations for the revision of the IUPGR.


The Technical Conference met in Leipzig, Germany, in 1996, and was attended by 150 countries and 54 inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations. The Conference adopted the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources and the Leipzig Declaration. It also considered the first Report on the State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources.

The Global Plan of Action recognizes that "certain policy, legal and institutional issues, inter alia, those related to ownership, intellectual property rights, exchange, transfer and trade in plant genetic resources, are confronting national programmes increasingly. Coordination is needed to provide national programmes with information on these issues and to assess the impact of international developments in these fields on the conservation and exchange of plant genetic resources, and to incorporate new research developments, as appropriate, into national systems and practices" (para.237).

The Global Plan of Action also recommends that Governments and their national agricultural research systems "consider legislative measures which allow distribution and commercialization of landraces/farmers' varieties and obsolete varieties, if they meet the same distribution and commercialization criteria for disease, pests, health and the environment, as conventional or registered varieties" (para 203 (e)).

The Leipzig Declaration commits government to taking the necessary steps to implement the Global Plan of Action.

FAO has reported the outcome of the Conference to major international, regional and national bodies dealing with food and agriculture, and invited their member constituencies to promote and take part, as appropriate, in its implementation. Countries will monitor and oversee the implementation of the Global Plan of Action through the CGRFA.


FAO provides technical advice and assistance to its member countries on a wide range of food and agricultural topics. These include advice and assistance on food quality and safety, animal health and production, plant protection and quarantine activities and general advice on agricultural production and trade, including information on agricultural policy and incentives for production and trade. The agreements adopted in the context of the Uruguay Round require technical assistance to be provided to developing countries in many areas which fall within FAO's expertise, and in which the Organization has extensive experience.

FAO's technical expertise relevant to the TRIPS Agreement relates to IPR over plant varieties, animal breeds, related technologies and germplasm. FAO's observer status on the TRIPS Council of WTO reflects the importance of its role in assisting member countries to meet their obligations under the Agreement. FAO technical assistance to developing countries in relation to TRIPS is focused on assisting national authorities in analysing their needs and identifying appropriate policy options; strengthening the relevant capacities; formulating or revising national legislation; and advising on the structure and functions of the institutions involved.

FAO has also extensive experience in assisting member countries with those aspects of TRIPS associated with genetic resources conservation and utilization, seed policies and programmes and plant and animal breeding; as well as with seed and propagating material legislation, plant variety protection legislation - including sui generis systems- and Farmers' Rights.

1 Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights