Report from Mexico on Plant Patent Debate
A Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) group within the Mexican Chamber of Deputies invited me and other analysts to a July 10 seminar to comment on the draft bill for a “Law on the Conservation and Sustainable Exploitation of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.” The bill’s proponents in the Chamber and Agra-Bio, the agricultural biotechnology lobby, had tried to fast track its passage, as they had fast-tracked Mexico's Law for Biosecurity and Genetically Modified Resources, otherwise known as the Monsanto Law.
Deputies Holly Matus Toledo and Adriana Díaz Contreras helped to stop the fast tracking and organized seminars and hearings on the bill. The first two seminars were held in the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, mega-biodiverse regions whose indigenous groups and genetic resources, especially for corn, will be most affected by the law. The bill is sufficiently controversial that the Mexican version of C-Span broadcast the entire seminar.
The Mexican Senate approved the Monsanto Law in April 2003 without the hearings required by law. The Chamber of Deputies passed the Monsanto Law in December 2004 after tumultuous hearings, during which nobody would answer the question posed by the Chair of the Commission on Science and Technology, “Who wrote this bill?” According to Greenpeace Mexico, Monsanto and Agra-Bio lobbyists wrote the bill and were on the floor of the Chamber for its debate and vote. The PRD deputies were determined that the new bill would have the legally required hearings and that people most affected by the law would have a chance to comment on it.
The ten academics and three NGO representatives invited to speak differed in terms of their professional backgrounds and consequent focus on this bill. But there was general agreement that the bill was not coherent with or supportive of Mexican law on organic agricultural production, indigenous and farmer rights, and bio-diversity conservation. As the sole foreign speaker, I focused on the bill’s international context. The bill authors’ insisted that the bill needed to conform to the “new reality” of agricultural biotechnology in Mexico and intellectual property obligations in trade agreements.
My presentation, here in English and Spanish, emphasized that the “new reality” was not settled law but was still under negotiation at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and at World Trade Organization agreement on intellectual property (TRIPs). The Mexican government and indigenous and campesino groups, rather than signing onto a law drafted by the biotech lobby, could lead in the protection and sustainable use of genetic resources (GR) and traditional knowledge(TK). WIPO finances the participation of accredited indigenous groups in its negotiations on GR, TK and folklore protection. To ensure that patent rules really foster socially important innovations and to ensure that TRIPs is coherent with the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization treaty on seeds, developing countries and Norway are seeking to amend the TRIPs agreement. According to the proposed amendment, patent applicants would have to disclose information about GR and TK used in their products or face the suspension of their application.
Though developed country opposition continues to prevent WTO adoption of the amendment, I contended that there is no legal reason why the amendment could not be incorporated into the Mexican legislation.
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