October 2000


A consortium of non-governmental organisations has called for changes to be made in the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Intellectual Property Rights - TRIPS - which currently contradicts and undermines internationally accepted rights on food, health and the environment.

By Lean Ka-Min

Geneva: The set of global rules under the World Trade Organisation governing intellectual property must be modified so that it no longer undermines efforts to eradicate poverty and ensure sustainable economic and social development in the developing world, demanded a consortium of non-governmental organisations meeting in Berne.

At the two-day gathering, held prior to World Food Day, the consortium of 23 development, environment, farmer and health NGOs issued a call for governments to make a number of changes in the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in order that it be in consonance with basic human rights, food security and the protection of the world’s biodiversity.

The NGOs pointed to the inconsistency between the TRIPS Agreement and Articles 25 and 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as Art. 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, all of which protect the right to food. Making use of patents to monopolise control over plant genetic resources, large corporations are thus able to raise seed prices and promote inappropriate high-input seed packages, thereby compromising farmers’ control over their genetic resources.

According to the NGOs, the TRIPS Agreement currently also stands in contradiction to provisions in the UN Convention on Biological Diversity  that ensure the preservation of natural resources, prior informed consent and benefit-sharing. They expressed grave concern over the way WTO rules allow and promote the patenting of life and genetically modified organisms, adding that clarification is needed to ensure that plants and animals, as well as microorganisms and all other living organisms and their parts, cannot be patented.

‘At the moment, the TRIPS Agreement is undermining internationally accepted human rights such as the right to food, the right to health and the right to safeguard the environment. It is imperative that the TRIPS Agreement is modified so that it supports rather than contradicts these rights,’ said Francois Meienberg of Berne Declaration, one of the meeting’s organisers.

The NGOs stressed that it is crucial to hold a review of the TRIPS Agreement to better balance the interests of patent holders and the greater public interest. An initial step towards this end is to examine possible future options to clarify and expand existing exemptions to patentability for goods which fulfil wider social functions, such as medicines and seeds, traditional knowledge and living beings.

Continuing in the current course set by the TRIPS regime would only result in more hunger, poor health and erosion of biodiversity, warned the NGOs. - Third World Network Features

About the writer: Lean Ka-Min is an Editorial Assistant with Third World Economics, published by the Third World Network.