14 October 2009
WRITTEN QUESTION by Carl Schlyter (Verts/ALE) to the Commission
Subject: Negotiations between the EU, Central America and the Andean countries concerning patents
Patents on seeds and hybrid plants have provoked strong criticism in those Latin American countries which have introduced legislation in accordance with the 1995 TRIPS agreement. In Argentina and Brazil, a small number of foreign seed companies have taken over the local seed market for most plants and, in doing so, have severely undermined the system based on small farmers’ free trade in plant varieties and seeds.
Traditional Latin American agriculture is a living seed bank which, over the years, has been able to preserve a great variety of crops. However, small farmers from various Latin American countries now report that their crops are fertilised by plants with a patent-protected property, which forces them to pay for patents and prevents traditional agriculture because the reproduction, sale or exchange of patented seed is simply not legal without the authorisation of the seed company. Traditional agriculture has therefore ceased, biological diversity has been restrained rather than promoted and the remaining seeds for sowing are restricted to a small number of companies which control an increasingly monopolised seed market. This situation poses a threat to small farmers’ rights to food and a living.
According to Latin American trade unions and organisations — including Terra de Direitos, which specialises in the social implications of patents on microbiological processes, genes and plant varieties — patenting has had devastating consequences for biological diversity in several Latin American countries.
To my knowledge, neither the patent rules proposed in the association agreement between the EU and Central America nor the bilateral trade negotiations taking place between the EU and Colombia and Peru respectively have taken account of such criticism, which gives rise to the following questions.
What steps does the Commission take in negotiations on patents to promote biological diversity rather than restrain it?
Is the Commission negotiating to extend the patent period for new genes and microbiological processes?
What is the Commission’s position on conflicts which have been caused when individuals have involuntarily had their crops fertilised by pollen from a patented plant?
Answer given by Ms Ferrero-Waldner
on behalf of the Commission
The text agreed with Central America and the Andean countries on the protection of biological diversity contains several clauses according to which the Parties recognize the sovereign right of States over their natural resources and the access to their genetic resources in accordance with what is established in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Both the EU and Central American countries have agreed that there will be no provisions that prevent the Parties from adopting or maintaining measures to promote the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable utilization of its components and the fair and equitable participation in the benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources, in conformity with the CBD.
There is no specific provision in the current version of the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) chapter of the Free Trade Agreements (FTA) with the Andean countries that obliges partners to grant extension of any patent term. Parties are free to make available mechanisms to compensate patent owners in case of unreasonable curtailment of the effective patent term of pharmaceutical products. With respect to Central America, the Commission is not negotiating any prolongation of the patent period for new genes and microbiological processes.
The Commission cannot take any position with respect to the conflicts caused when people had, against their will, their harvest fertilized by a patent protected plant and this issue is not covered by the negotiations.