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India: traditional knowledge & stopping bio-piracy

India to Press For Changes in TRIPs Regime To Prevent Bio-Piracy

India is pressing for changes in the WTO TRIPs regime in order to protect traditional knowledge and prevent bio-piracy. Dr. Prodipto Ghosh, Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forest, said in a presentation at the National Seminar on TRIPS-CBD and Subsidy Issues here yesterday that coordinated changes in the trade-related intellectual property rights (TRIPS) regime of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the Convention on Biological diversity (CBD) were the key requirements of a multilateral access and benefit sharing regime. Shri Anthony de Sa, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Commerce & Industry, explained that the issue was very important for developing countries as piracy of biological material and misappropriation of traditional knowledge was taking place. Hence, India, along with some other mega-biodiverse developing countries, are demanding a legally binding regime which would enjoin all WTO members to amend their IPR laws to include the following three principles: (a) Disclosure of country or origin of source of biological material or traditional knowledge; (b) Prior Informed Consent (PIC); and (c) Equitable Benefit Sharing (EBS), Shri de Sa said.

The one-day Seminar was jointly organised by the Ministry of Commerce & Industry (Department of Commerce) and UNCTAD as a part of the series of stakeholder consultations in the context of the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference of the WTO scheduled to be held in December 2005. Dr. Veena Jha, Project Coordinator of UNCTAD-India Programme, indicated that this was the fifth meeting of its kind with stakeholders being organised under the project on strategies and preparedness for trade and globalisation in India. A wide cross section of stakeholders including farmers groups, traditional knowledge (TK) User Support Groups, NGOs, academicians and policy makers participated in the Seminar.

The Seminar has concluded that the protection and appropriate value realisation of traditional knowledge is essential for the sustainable use of biodiversity and can play an important role in the development process. Yet traditional knowledge is often under-utilised, and more dangerously, also being lost or misappropriated. Given the WTO patent regime, any lack of international public law measures to protect against the usurpation of traditional knowledge may even result in a situation where the traditional knowledge holders are deprived of rights to use products which have been theirs for generations together. This is extremely important, as the market value of plant-based medicines sold in the OECD alone has been estimated at about US $ 40-60 billion annually

The international regime of TK is governed primarily by the CBD and, therefore, it was recognised that amendments to TRIPS would be needed to develop a viable means for delivering on benefit sharing objective of the CBD. It was noted that some developed countries were agreeable to the ‘disclosure of source and origin of country’ so long as it had no legal consequences on the patent system. It was felt that this would not suffice, as TK holders in developing countries had limited resources to contest grant of patents in developed countries. Hence, the need to ensure that patent granting authorities the world over ensured that prior informed consent was taken from the holders of TK and that the gains from use of patents were also equitably shared with the TK holders.

Work is also needed to be done on the domestic policy and infrastructure front and special measures needed to ensure that contracts between TK holders and the users were fair and equitable. In this context, it was noted that Government of India had already set up the National Biodiversity Authority towards ensuring equity, and would enter into agreements with patent holders for this purpose. Effective documentation of biodiversity resources and micro organisms was considered essential.

While this objective was contained in Para 19 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration, little has so far been achieved in the WTO. However, India along with other developing countries introduced a checklist of issues and provided its own responses to the checklist. Discussion is now underway in the WTO on these issues. India is also discussing with other like-minded developing countries whether the call for amendments to the TRIPs Agreement could be preceded by a Ministerial Declaration similar to TRIPs and Public health, the Seminar noted.

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