SANFEC’S STATEMENT OF POSITION ON TRIPS ARTICLE 27.3(b)
The following Statement of Position and Plan of Action on Intellectual
Property Rights in lifeforms was adopted by South Asian Network on Food,
Ecology and Culture (SANFEC) in the “Workshop on Preparing for the Review of
Article 27.3(b) of TRIPs” that took place in Tangail, Bangladesh during
22-25 February, 1999. The Workshop was jointly organized by UBINIG and
ActionAid India and was attended by participants from Bangladesh, India,
Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, The Phillipines and Canada
representing organizations and networks active at various national, regional
and international levels.
South Asian communities are historically premised on the deep sense of
moral, religious and cultural values. The region is inhabited by
multi-ethnic, multi-religious and large indigenous communities. All trees,
crops, animals, birds, organisms, and soils are inalienable part of our
worships, our rituals, our celebrations, our joys, our culture of sharing
and our loving affinity to each other. Our region is replete with hundreds
of thousands of sacred groves where trees and plants are worshipped by
people. We have a long history of spiritual and political movements where
Sufis, Saints and various bhakti traditions have fought to preserve the
integrity of Nature in her multiple expressions, including the beauty of the
Such gifts must be cared and respected and only then we gain moral rights to
use them for our livelihood needs. The human as omnipotent consumer, that
owns, controls, mutates, displaces and destroys the environment, through
privatizations, colonizations and now through intellectual property rights
(IPRs) in lifeforms, is totally against our cultures. We are strongly
opposed to non recognition of the rights of other cultures to live on their
own historical premise and principles.
The egocentric notion of ‘rights’ that privatise and colonise natural
resources is very alien to the deep sense of moral, spiritual and cultural
values of our communities. Similarly, knowledge as an intellectual property
of an individual or a corporation is totally absurd proposition to our
people. The Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs)
Agreement of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that have inscribed such
alien values are based on long colonial and racist histories of the world,
and must be seen as a cultural and political issue, and not merely as
elements of emerging legal discourse of new global order. We are not
surprised to see that the old history of colonisation and privatisation is
now being conducted openly and in bizarre legal rhetorics that are hardly
understandable by the people. WTO and other trade regimes eliminate all
possibilities of the people of our countries resolving issues of national
concern within their own localities and within the boundaries of nation
states. People all over the world have been depoliticised and transnationals
have concentrated political powers in their hands and are enforcing it
through the establishment of the World Trade Organization. Raw greed and the
logic of profit dictates their morality, law, cultural values and politics.
This is not acceptable to us.
Patenting of life through the introduction and expansion of Intellectual
Property Rights is creating a great upheaval in our societies, amidst the
precarious conditions precipitated by the new global order. As history
reminds us the Great Indian Uprising of 1857 in the subcontinent was
triggered by a culturally inappropriate technology (lard was introduced by
the British for gun grease which offended the sensibilities of Muslim
soldiers). Today a similar outrage is being perpetrated by transnational
corporations through introduction of new genetic technologies that are a
direct threat to our cultures and religions and has all the potential to
trigger off greater turmoil. Worse still, they are demanding that we
recognise patents on these technologies. This is a serious issue of public
morality, and not a trade or legal issue to us.
Given this historical social, cultural and religious context, we do not see
any options, but to say NO to any form of intellectual property rights on
No IPRs on life means no IPRs on micro-organisms, as well as on plant and
animal varieties. Micro-organisms need to be excluded from TRIPS through an
exclusion for "biodiversity" at large. TRIPs impedes the implementation of
Convention of Biological Diversity, specifically the CBD objectives such as
conservation of biodiversity, sustainable use and rights for local
Survival of the Human Race
In resisting intellectual property in life forms and opposing TRIPs we are
not merely concerned about South Asian cultures and values. It is imperative
for all of us to also understand that the biodiversity that is still
preserved in Asia, Africa and Latin America, by diverse communities through
the practice of their diverse knowledge and cultural systems, supports
global food security and affords the only chance for human survival on the
It is this recognition which prompted the Convention on Biological Diversity
to state in its preamble that the Contracting Parties affirm, “that the
conservation of biological diversity is a common concern of humankind”. CBD
also clearly emphasised on international co-operation in “respect of areas
beyond national jurisdiction for the conservation and sustainable use of
The implementation of Article 27.3(b) will further deteriorate the already
precarious situation of the biodiversity of the world. The Northern
industrial nations have substantially destroyed their life supporting
biodiversity and agricultural systems. This has made the people of the
industrial countries more vulnerable than ever. Article 27.3(b) which
requires IPRs on plant varieties will industrialise our biological world,
privatise life forms and accelerate monoculture, promote
environmentally-destructive forms of biotechnology and genetic engineering,
resulting in the control of our lives and environment by Transnational
Corporations. The people of the industrialised North must recognise their
crucial interest in the conservation and enhancement of the biodiversity of
Asia, Africa and Latin America and distance themselves clearly from TNCs who
are our common enemies. WE MUST BE UNITED TOGETHER TO FIGHT THIS
ENEMY BEFORE TIME RUNS OUT.
Logic of the Rat Race
IPR regimes are a product of corporate greed and profit and work against the
survival of the human race which depends on agriculture based on natural
laws. The IPRs will promote monocultures and destroy biodiversity.
The whole purpose of WTO agreement is supposedly to facilitate free trade.
Patenting which by definition, creates monopolies, goes against this
professed intention and it is hypocritical to argue that IPRs are the
instruments of free trade.
Besides, in the current political context of a unipolar world where one
country, the USA, takes all the decisions for the entire world and punishes
those who try to resist them through naked military aggression and economic
sanctions, where is free trade? Free trade in this context is a myth and
will not delude us.
Corporate seed monopolies will destroy agriculture and lifestyle of millions
of farmers in our region. Nearly 90% of our region’s seed requirements are
met by farmers themselves through biodiversity based production systems of
farmers and will be forced to give way to markets controlled by
monopolists. Current evidence tells us that international seed trade is
monopolised by a small cartel of companies which controls a growing
proportion of the world seed trade. This monopoly will be disastrous for
farmers throughout the South.
Biodiversity is Not for Sale
Many of our megadiversity sites are heritage sites with ecological,
religious and cultural significance. We cannot allow this sacred heritage of
ours to be destroyed by an IPR regime.
Security of our nations is directly linked to biodiversity and therefore non
negotiable. Moreover millions of our people are dependent on the
biodiversity for their livelihoods. If we destroy it through IPRs we are
directly affecting their livelihoods.
All our countries in this region are signatories to the Convention on
Biological Diversity. By implementing Article 27.3(b) of TRIPS agreement we
will be undermining certain clauses in CBD like article 8j on community
rights. Since our governments have both signed and ratified the CBD in their
respective parliaments, we must not allow a trade treaty to violate the
solemn agreement we have made for the sake of humankind.
Rights for Whom and Rights for What?
Right to Livelihood which is a basic human right will be violated by IPRs on
life which threaten food security. By destroying biodiversity it will create
special problems to millions of our rural women who are the traditional
conservers and controllers of seed, who depend for their livelihood on
plants, crops and other life forms. This will be particularly so at times of
great environmental stress such as floods and droughts. Therefore IPRs are
patently gender unjust and should be rejected.
The indigenous people have traditionally developed and conserved the
megadiversity in their areas. The IPR regime applied to biodiversity will
threaten the inalienable rights of these indigenous peoples, recognised in
several international covenants and enshrined in some constitutions. This
stands seriously compromised by the IPR regime.
Our Position : Biodiversity Out of TRIPS
We want to be unequivocal: we are very much in favour of innovation.
Innovation is an ongoing and highly valued process in our societies and
should be supported by appropriate incentives and rewards. In our view, the
kind of rights we really need are not IPR and they would not be governed by
WTO but they would support farmers, indigenous and local communities in
their efforts over millenia to conserve and enhance biodiversity.
In the light of the above arguments, we the members of the SANFEC demand the
exclusion of biodiversity from TRIPs. Article 27.3(b) should be reworded to
provide a full and unconditional exclusion of all forms of biodiversity be
they microorganisms, plants or animals, from IPR regimes.
We recognise that many countries and peoples have been looking at the “sui
generis” option under TRIPs Article 27.3(b) as a “lease worst option” or
“damage control” mechanism. However, we feel this is a trap. Sui generis
rights under TRIPs would have to provide some kind of IPR over seeds and
plant varieties -- which we are against. Further, it would have to be
“effective” -- which means determined by industrialised countries and their
corporations, and subject to trade sanctions.
We recognise that developing countries that are members of the WTO are
obliged to implement TRIPs Article 27.3(b) in its current form from the year
2000. We call on governments not to implement the above and at the same time
press for its substantive review to demand total exclusion of all IPRs on
life from the TRIPs regime. We suggest that Article 27.3(b) be reworded as
Countries must exclude from Intellectual Property Rights (Patents, PBRs etc.)
plants, animals, microorganisms and parts thereof, and any process
making use thereof, or relating thereto.
SANFEC PLAN OF ACTION ON ARTICLE 27.3(b)
We call upon the Governments of the region to:
* not implement Article 27.3 (b) of TRIPs in its current form and press for
its substantive review to demand total exclusion of all IPR on life from the
* develop and enforce a code of conduct for the regulation of all
so-called life-science transnational corporations, with a view to protect
the rights, livelihoods and food security of their people.
* evolve a common SAARC position in relation to the review of the Article
* to collaborate among themselves, NGOs, CBOs and with other concerned
agencies for exchange of information on the activities of TNCs involved in
genetic engineering of seed.
* ensure accountability of the public research institutions for the
protection of the interests of the poor farmers, and for sustainable
agriculture, bio-diversity and rights of the communities over their
knowledge, technology, practice and genetic resources including all plants,
plant-forms and animals.
We call upon the media of this region to
* give adequate coverage to the issues arising out of the review of Art.
27.3(b) of TRIPS, including challenges thrown up by NGOs, farmers and others
working towards sustainable agriculture.
We call upon women and men farmers to
* unite and resist any attempt to impose intellectual property rights on
life forms and any violation of their rights over their knowledge,
technology, plants, animals and micro-organisms.
* not buy or plant any genetically modified organisms or seeds in their
lands. Nor should they allow such organisms or seeds to be planted in their
neighbourhood so as to prevent unintended gene transfer.
* continue to produce, preserve and enhance their traditional varieties of
We call upon the consumers to
* reject food made out of genetically-modified material, because of their
adverse effect on human health and environment.
* encourage organically grown food, especially those based on traditional
varieties of crops.
We call upon the youth and students, to
* join the struggles of farmers against the life-science TNCs and against
patenting of life-forms.
* educate themselves and others on the harmful effects of genetic
engineering on life forms.
We call upon NGOs to
* create wide awareness among farmers other NGOs and the general public, and
mobilise them to rally against the IPRs on life-forms.
* promote ecologically sustainable farming systems and participatory
research on traditional technology, especially to establish the superiority
and sustainability of organic farming systems.
* exchange the results of their work among themselves, among farmers, and
members of the government and research institutions.
We call upon the international organisations and UN bodies to
* support the farmers' rights campaign on 'no IPRs on life'
* promote ecologically sustainable farming systems and participatory
research on traditional technology
* put pressure on the governments in the North to support the position on
'no IPRs on life'
SANFEC will work towards greater mobilisation of opinion with regard to the
IPR on life forms within the SAARC forum.
Fore more information, please contact
Policy and Advocacy Unit
3 Rest House Road
Bangalore 560 001 India
Tel: (91-80) 224 03 99
Fax: (91-80) 558 62 84
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