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AUS:Australian opportunities in intellectual trade

23 September 1999

Australian agriculture's challenges, and opportunities, in the next century will lie as much in the trade of information and knowledge, as in increasing yields and making better use of available land.

And according to a new report from the Centre for International Economics and the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC), these opportunities may be lost unless Australia makes the most of its Intellectual Property in the international trade market.

The report has been produced in the lead-up to an international review of the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) at the end of 1999. TRIPS sets minimum standards for Intellectual Property protection around the world.

Report authors John Asker and Andrew Stoeckel say Australia has a major opportunity to help establish rules in the TRIP agreement which will be to our advantage. Dr Stoeckel will use the report in a keynote address on the subject at a special World Bank and World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Geneva on October 1&2.

"The key areas for agriculture seem to be the protection of Geographical Indicatons (which identify a good coming from a particular country or region) and the extension of patent law to include all non-human aspects of biotechnology," the report says.

"Australia is likely to gain from increased recognition of Intellectual Property rights attached to biotechnology. On the other hand, an extension of the protection offered to geographical indications could represent a significant pitfall for some areas of Australian agriculture."

However, certain areas of the cheese industry and possibly the fruit industry were likely to experience the most harm from tighter GI regulations.

Wine, cotton, wildflowers and other cheese industry sectors would likely benefit from stronger patent and Plant Breeder Right laws.

"It should be remembered that Australian industries like wine have actually benefited from regulations governing geographical indications, because they have been forced to develop their own branding and marketing strategies which have been spectacularly successful," Dr Stoeckel said. "Those industries which adapt and take advantage of any changes will benefit."

Dr Stoeckel said that as world markets became more developed, significant returns to producers would be in the marketing, product innovation and provision of specific services - areas that required recognition of Intellectual Property rights.

"Knowledge is the keystone of growth and prosperity and the extension of Intellectual Property laws will encourage innovation and product development.

"This should not be confused with debate about Genetically Modified Organisms, which is a powerful issue but is about environment, product safety and appropriate labeling for consumers. Intellectual Property is about encouraging innovation and development in many fields."

The report Intellectual Property in Agricultural Trade is available for $15 by calling (02) 6272 4819 or from the RIRDC


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