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Planting rights over seeds

Seed Freedom | 12 August 2013

Planting rights over seeds

By Ashok B Sharma

The government is planning another sell out of farmers’ interest at the altar of the proposed India-EU Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA). Several rounds of negotiations have taken place and the talks are at an advanced stage.

Country’s auto industry and the pharmaceutical sector have sensed that their interests are being compromised and being organised and vocal, they have raised their voices against negotiating for a possible adverse outcome.

On the other hand, the most unfortunate aspect is that the farmers in the country are not so well organized as the industry bodies and, therefore not able to speak and assert in one voice. Number of fake organizations have come up claiming to represent the farmers and this situation has made easy for the Government to handpick some of them to get their views endorsed for policy and actions of the Government. Genuine organizations of farmers are often marginalized and are not invited by the Government for soliciting their views.

Therefore in bilateral and multilateral negotiations, be it the WTO negotiations or talks for FTAs, it is easy for the Indian negotiators to trade off farmers’ interests for achieving favourable outcomes in other sectors.

Recently during the visit of the Indian Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh to Germany, an agreement on seeds was signed between the two countries and between National Seeds Association of India and the German Association of Plant Breeders. According to official sources, the agreement aims at strengthening cooperation in plant variety protection, conservation of plant genetic resources and cooperation between Indian and German agricultural research institutions and seed companies.

India has an excellent legislation Plant Varieties Protection and Farmers’ Rights Act 2001. This legislation has enough provisions for protecting farmers’ rights over seeds. Another similar legislation Biological Diversity Act 2002 ensures protection of country’s biodiversity from acts of biopiracy. In fact these legislations and documentations help India to fight attempts of biopiracy and patenting of traditional knowledge.

Several attempts were made in the past to dilute the provisions of these two important legislations by signing bilateral agreements at the global level. Interested lobbies wanted India to the second version of the International Convention for the Protection of the New Varieties of Plants – UPOV II – set up by European legislation. This move was resisted by civil society and farmers’ organisations in India as this would spell danger for Indian farmers.

The Government should explain the details of the agreement signed with Germany on seeds, plant variety protection and conservation of plant genetic resources as it had not discussed with farmers before striking this agreement. India is in a haste to strike a BTIA with the European Union as early as possible. The main intention is to bail out the European Union from the crisis it is undergoing. Germany is a comparatively stable economy in the crisis-ridden Eurozone. The Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, being aware of this fact, had sought the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s help in pushing the negotiations for an early finalisation of India-EU BTIA. During Indian Prime Minister’s recent visit to Germany a Joint Declaration of Intent was signed by the Indian Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution and Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology of the Federal Republic of Germany on the Establishment of an Indo-German Working Group on Quality Infrastructure for Cooperation in Standardisation, Conformity Assessment and Product Safety.

According to official sources, this Joint Declaration aims to strengthen bilateral cooperation in standardization, conformity assessment and product safety through advancing bilateral economic and technical cooperation, intensifying dialogue and promoting coordinated activities in international organizations. Also provides for establishing and Indo-German Working Group Quality Infrastructure. Indian food consignments to Europe are being rejected by applications of several non-tariff barriers like sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) norms. SPS measures are usually used as a political weapon to wilfully check exports from India and other developing countries. On the other hand, Europe wants India to open its doors for the entry of highly subsidised European food products, wines and spirits.

India’s dairy sector is likely to be adversely impacted if the subsidised European dairy products are allowed to flood Indian market. The negotiations at the WTO had reached a deadlock as European Union and other developed countries refused to phase out their high level of subsidy which has distorted global trade.

Indian auto industry is also apprehensive if luxury cars and auto parts are allowed to enter Indian market. Europe is eager that India open the doors for investment in banking, insurance and retail chain.

Indian pharma industry is apprehensive about the introduction of an IPR clause in the India-EU agreement which may lead to seizure of generic drug manufacturer’s bank account and immovable property on mere suspicion of a patent infringement.

India’s cheap life saving generic drugs have not only help the poor people in the country, but also poor people in other developing countries, particularly in Africa. This has also helped the country to earn foreign exchange through exports of generic drugs.

The Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Indian negotiators owe a responsibility to the people that the interests of farmers, auto and pharma sectors should not be sacrificed at the alter of the proposed India-EU BTIA.

Following the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Germany, the negotiations for India-EU BTIA took place in Brussels in April 15. The Indian Minister of Commerce and Industry and Textiles, Anand Sharma who led the Indian negotiators for the Brussels talks had this to say: “I have just returned from Brussels and I am happy to share with you that the negotiations for the India-EU BTIA are progressing well and both sides have given a clear mandate to negotiators for concluding a balanced and fair agreement at the earliest. I am confident that over the next couple of months, we should see intensification of this process and hope that we will be able to arrive at a broad understanding soon.”

The intensification of negotiations will soon begin and the negotiators are given the mandate for an early conclusion of India-EU BTIA. Before any likely disaster can happen the farmers and the leaders of the auto and pharma sectors need to assert and ensure that Indian interests are protected. (IPA Service)

 source: IPA