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FTAs could hurt farmers, too

DNA India | 11 December 2009

FTAs could hurt farmers, too

Priyanka Golikeri / DNA

Mumbai: After generic drugmakers, it’s the farmers who are feeling the heat of the intellectual property (IP) regime.

The free trade agreements (FTAs) being negotiated by the government with European Union (EU) and Japan could put the rights of both at stake.

According to individuals closely tracking the FTAs, both EU and Japan are pressing for India to join the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants - 1991 (UPOV).

Should India accede, Indian farmers could turn into pawns in the hands of multi-national companies engaged in crop research.

The FTAs are also pressing heavily for stricter IP measures for patented drugs, including provisions like data exclusivity and patent term extensions, which can impact early entry of low-cost generic drugs.

Shalini Bhutani, regional programme officer, Asia, of GRAIN, a non-profit working to support small farmers, feels the FTAs will cost small farmers their freedom. "FTAs, which mandatorily require countries to become members of UPOV, will lead to further curtailment of the natural rights of the farming communities and make them subject to the economic rights of corporates."

Joining UPOV would crush farmers’ privileges of sharing, exchanging and selling seeds to other farmers.

Blame it on the provision of plant variety protection (PVP), which guarantees IP protection to the plant varieties developed by MNC agriculture companies.

"Farmers will be allowed to sow PVP seeds only on their own fields, and save them for future use only if allowed and on payment of royalty to the agriculture corporates," says a New Delhi-based IP expert.

Bhutani, too, feels signing FTAs will amount to signing away seed and food sovereignty.

Experts feel UPOV goes beyond what is required by the trade related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS) agreement of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which India is a signatory to.

"While laws under TRIPS are draconian, those being institutionalised through FTAs are nothing short of undermining whatever little protection is available to farmers in developing countries," says Bhaskar Goswami from the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security.

"It is still a matter of grave concern whether Indian negotiators will resist attempts like those which call for greater IP and how far they will succeed," says the New Delhi-based IP expert.

 source: DNA India