Who Owns Nature?
|October 13, 2003||Posted by Staff under Archive, Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Can Natural Resources be Patented?
Developing world accuses USA, Europe of ‘bio-piracy’
As you know, a major meeting of the WTO (World Trade Organization) is taking place in Seattle November 30-December 3. The WTO is an anti-democracy, anti-freedom, anti-free-market organization that can override international law.
The Progress Report will be bringing you some of the best coverage of the WTO meetings. Here is a warm-up for you. These excerpts are from a recent article in the London Guardian.
by John Vidal
A major row is threatening to break out at the opening of the World Trade Organisation’s talks in Seattle next week over the patenting of the genetic make-up of plants and animals to develop new drugs.
The US and Europe insist that corporations should be allowed to patent all plants and animals despite existing international laws and understandings which provide for protection of natural resources.
India, Malaysia, Zimbabwe and other African and Latin American countries have accused the US and Europe of “bio-piracy”. The Indians are particularly worried because US and European corporations have started to patent their traditional herbal medecines.
In heated backroom talks in Geneva designed to iron out differences before the inter-governmental meeting, Mike Moore, the head of the organisation responsible for setting the world’s trading laws, is reported to have dismissed developing countries’ objections by saying that the WTO overrides all other international treaties.
The US/EU proposals would force all countries to broaden their patenting laws, but the developing countries are resisting strongly. They say that patents on all life forms should be excluded from the negotiations of the Trade Related Intellectual Property (Trips) agreement which is scheduled for renegotiation in the talks.
If that is not possible, they argue that patents should be excluded for products and processes based on traditional knowledge. The gap between the two blocs is now extreme with the US and Europe responding that wider patents will improve health care and stimulate wealth.
More than 500 non-governmental groups from more than 50 countries have written to President Clinton urging the US to temper its patenting demands. They are not likely to succeed because the powerful US biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries have long wanted global patenting laws based on the US model.
The problem which the US must overcome is that the patenting proposals clash with other international laws. Another sticking point is agriculture, with the rich countries trying to force a further opening up of markets to their goods. The developing world, say India and others, must be allowed to protect and support their farmers up to the point of self-sufficiency.
Prospects for the Seattle talks setting an agreed agenda are not considered high. “I have never seen such confusion in 21 years of international talks,” says trade analyst Chakrabathi Raghavan in Geneva.
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