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[FYI] TRIPS & its negative features


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                        Online edition of India's National Newspaper
                        on indiaserver.com
                                       Tuesday, July 20, 1999

                 TRIPS & its negative features 

                 By B. P. Jeevan Reddy 

                 THE HUMAN Development Report 1999, released last
                 week, contains data of great relevance to developing
                 countries such as India. It says globalisation offers
                 great opportunities for human advance but only with
                 stronger governance and greater regulation. At the
                 same time, it sets out the ill-effects of
                 globalisation, contributing to greater misery and
                 suffering among the poorer nations. It points out
                 that over the last decade the gap between the rich
                 and the poor has been increasing significantly. For
                 instance, ``the assets of the top three billionaires
                 are more than the combined GNP of all least developed
                 countries and their 600 million people.'' 


                 Intellectual Property Rights were first raised as a
                 multilateral trade issue in 1986 under the General
                 Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) to crack down
                 on counterfeit goods. But with many industrial
                 countries interested in negotiations on trade
                 liberalisation to tighten control over technology,
                 this narrow focus was soon extended to include many
                 other areas. ``Although each country implements the
                 Intellectual Property Rights law at the national
                 level, the TRIPS agreement imposes minimum standards
                 on patents, copyright, trade marks and trade secrets.
                 These standards are derived from the legislation of
                 industrial companies, applying the form and level of
                 protection of the industrial world to all WTO
                 members. This is far tighter than existing
                 legislation in most developing countries and often
                 conflicts with their national interest and needs''. 

                 The Report further says the big corporations define
                 research agendas and tightly control their findings
                 with patents, racing to lay claim to intellectual
                 property under the rules set out in the agreement on
                 TRIPS and that as a result poor people and poor
                 countries risk being pushed to the margin in this
                 proprietary regime controlling the world's knowledge.
                 The Report says ``From new drugs to better seeds, 
the                 best of the new technologies are priced for those 
who                 can pay. For poor people they remain far out of

                 Tighter property rights raise the price of technology
                 transfer, blocking developing countries from the
                 dynamic knowledge sectors. The TRIPS agreement will
                 enable multinationals to dominate the global market
                 even more easily. 

                 New patent laws pay scant attention to the knowledge
                 of indigenous people. These laws ignore cultural
                 diversity in the way innovations are created and
                 shared - and diversity in views on what can and
                 should be owned, from plant varieties to human life.
                 The result: a silent theft of centuries of knowledge
                 from some of the poorest communities in developing

                 After setting out the negative features of the TRIPS
                 Agreement, the Report says ``Intellectual Property
                 Rights under the TRIPS agreement need comprehensive
                 review to redress their perverse effects undermining
                 food security, indigenous knowledge, biosafety and
                 access to healthcare'' and then proceeds to suggest
                 the strategies which the developing and less
                 developed countries should adopt to counteract the
                 ill-effects of unequal multilateral agreements. It
                 suggests that the ``poor and small countries should
                 pursue active participation in the global dialogues
                 on multilateral agreements from their development to
                 negotiations to implementation.'' They should ``link
                 negotiations on intellectual property rights with
                 rights to emit carbon into the atmosphere - and to
                 link environmental assets like rain forests to
                 negotiations on trade, debt and investment. They can
                 also gain in negotiations by pooling resources for
                 policy analysis and developing common negotiating
                 positions. Regional collective action is a first step
                 in this direction.'' It suggests that following
                 actions be set taken immediately to strengthen the
                 bargaining position of the poor and small countries: 

                 ``Provide legal aid. The WTO dispute settlement
                 mechanisms can be fair only when the parties to a
                 dispute have access to expert services of equal
                 calibre to argue their case. An independent legal aid
                 centre is needed to support poor countries. 


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