RCEP Ministerial talks: Farmers, civil society bodies warn against patenting seeds and plants

March 5, 2019: Forty-one Indian farmer and civil society organisations have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressing that India should not agree to proposals on intellectual property (IP) on seeds and plants at the on-going Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations.

Similar representations have been made by farmer groups to their governments in Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia stressing that they should not give in to pressure from some countries at the 16-country RCEP talks to take on intellectual property obligations that go beyond World Trade Organisation commitments.

“It is Australia that is pressing for IP rights on plant varieties and it is important for India to have the support of countries such as Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand to overturn it,” a Delhi-based trade expert told BusinessLine.

Once implemented, the RCEP, which includes the ten-member ASEAN, India, China, South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, will lead to the creation of the largest free trade bloc in the world.

RCEP Trade Ministers went to Cambodia on March 2 for the trade ministers’ conference where the issue of tighter IP norms covering plant varieties and seeds was on the agenda.

The letter to Prime Minister Modi pointed out that some RCEP countries were insisting on provisions on rights in plant varieties consistent with the 1991 Act of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV 1991 Convention).

“We stress that recognising any aspect of the UPOV system would be inconsistent with and undermine farmer seed systems in India and the international rights and obligations of India under the various international instruments. Most importantly nothing must affect the right of Indian farmers to freely save, use, exchange and sell farm saved seeds/propagating material,” the letter said. It warned that the UPOV system will reduce household income available for food, healthcare or education.