Thais seek shield against ’biopiracy’

Bangkok Post | 20 July 2005

Thais seek shield against ’biopiracy’

WORANUJ MANEERUNGSEE & WICHIT CHANTANUSORNSIRI

While United States trade negotiators seek to strengthen intellectual property protection under the proposed Thai-US free trade area agreement, Thailand is raising the issue of genetic resources and ways to guard against biopiracy.

’’This (biopiracy) is an issue that the US has never raised with its counterparts under a bilateral free trade framework. So it might prove difficult for Thailand to insist that this is part of the discussions,’’ said Wiboonlasana Ruamraksa, the deputy director-general of the Intellectual Property Department.

Ms Wiboonlasana was one of several dozen senior Thai technocrats who travelled to Montana last week for the fourth round of talks on the free trade agreement.

She said Thailand might seek protections similar or beyond the country’s anti-biopiracy proposals to the World Trade Organisation.

Thailand, with a wide range of biological resources, wants at a minimum agreement that any country using local genetic resources clarify their origin in any patent applications.

Brazil and India have submitted similar calls for strengthening protection against biopiracy — theft of native species including DNA — with the WTO. Both have raised concerns about the use of biological resources in industries such as pharmaceuticals, and the practice of private companies seeking to patent commercial innovations based on local resources.

Developing countries want safeguards that guarantee benefits are shared fairly with the countries in which the biological resources are sourced.

Ms Wiboonlasana said that at last week’s meetings the sides exchanged information on various aspects of intellectual property rights, including enforcement, copyright and trademark protection regimes.

Detailed talks are to begin during the next round in September, she added.

US officials indicated they would seek to expand copyright protection to new technology such as Internet applications.

Ms Wiboonlasana said the US also wanted to expand trademark protection to cover ’’scents and sounds’’, covering areas such as the MGM lion’s roar at the start of each of the film studio’s movies.

’’We agreed with the US that sound and scent might create value and opportunity for businesses. But we wonder about the technology to be used to authenticate these sorts of trademarks,’’ she said.

On enforcement, discussion centred on penalties for intellectual property (IP) violations. The US pressed for civil punishment only for IP theft; Thailand wanted both civil and criminal penalties. The sides will fine-tune this issue later.

US trade negotiators want to finalise the FTA talks with Thailand by next April. Thai officials are more pessimistic, given the wide gulf in finalising a basic framework on the talks, particularly regarding services liberalisation.

Thailand wants to use a ’’positive list’’ approach, in which each sector to be liberalised is explicitly named. The Americans want a negative list, where everything will be liberalised except for certain, named sectors. Talks on the financial sector will resume in September in Washington, on the sidelines of the annual World Bank-IMF meetings.

Representatives from the US Federal Reserve and the US Securities and Exchange Commission will attend that session. The US has expressed interest in greater access to the asset management, insurance, banking and securities brokerage sectors, and holds that investment and capital flows should be freed from current restrictions.

Thailand’s view is that liberalisation has to take into account the country’s developing status, plus the vast size of US financial institutions compared with their smaller Thai counterparts.

source: Bangkok Post