TCS Daily


Doha Held Hostage

By Alan Oxley - June 20, 2006 12:00 AM

Efforts in the World Trade Organization to expand world trade and lift global living standards are foundering. India and Brazil blame the United States and the European Union for coddling agriculture and blocking imports from their farmers. But New Delhi and Brasilia have just demanded something which may be far more harmful to efforts to eradicate poverty and lift global living standards. They want to curb the freedom to patent innovations in all biological materials.

Innovation is the driver of biotechnology and the key to increasing food production. Miracle rice more than doubled yields. Farmers everywhere thrive on new advances. Why would they want to restrict that?

They say this is needed to stop "biopiracy". Indians point to a fungicide derived from the "Neem" bush which WR Grace, a US chemical company, patented in the US. Others point to weight control products derived from the "Hoodia" cactus found in southern Africa and developed by Pfizer.

New Delhi and Brasilia told the WTO's intellectual property council in mid June that they want WTO rules changed so that any patent drawing on a "biological resource" can be held up unless the owner of that biological resource has approved the application (and, implicitly, secured agreement to a share of the returns). Failure to do so would invalidate the patent.

India had already turned the heat up on this issue. At the WTO conference in Hong Kong last December, their Trade Minister declared that unless the WTO agreed to negotiate such a change, India would not support any package of trade liberalization from the Doha Round.

This changes things in the Doha Round. Not only must the US and the EU cut protection of farmers, they (and everyone else) have to agree to alter patent law. This is a big call. Especially since it is based on a myth -- that "biopiracy" is rife.

Worldwide, thousands of products derived from biological resources have been patented. When India tabled a lengthy document supporting its case in the WTO last year, it could only turn up 16 examples of "biopiracy". None demonstrated that biological property, industrial or otherwise, had been stolen.

There have been some mistakes. In Japan a trademark was issued for Acia, a Brazilian fruit. Common names may not be trademarked and it was revoked when challenged. Good patent law also does not allow natural products to be patented. This shows good intellectual property law is capable of correcting its own mistakes.

Yet, as the movie "Medicine Man" with Sean Connery showed, the idea that biopiracy is rampant presses many buttons: preference for romanticism over science, the poor over the rich, and communal property rights over private property rights.

Social activists love this; those who care about what increases growth and reduces poverty shouldn't. The Food and Agriculture Organization based in Rome has warned about the effects of curbing patents on biological inventions. The granting of patents would grind to a halt. No new agricultural, food or biotechnology product could be patented without the prior approval of claimants of ownership of biological resources. Research in innovation would dwindle.

That is clear enough. What about the traditional societies? Should the San people, a pre-industrial society living on the fringes of the Kalahari Desert in Africa, get a share of the profits from Hoodia appetite suppressants? The facts are revealing.

A South African Government research institute paid several thousand dollars to a group of San for the right to experiment with the Hoodia cactus. For a wild plant, that was probably a generous payment. It extracted the agent which inhibits appetite and sold the right to use it to Pfizer for several millions dollars which in turn developed a commercially useable product.

"Hoodia" products are now hitting the commercial market. Lawyers for the San argue they should get more but the San people did not pay for the research and development of the derivatives.

The story with Neem is similar. WR Grace invested in research to create Neem-derived products with a shelf life of several weeks. Indian farmers did not create that product. The shelf life of the natural product was a few days.

Biological resources are an economic resource, like minerals. In Australia, aboriginal people live in areas with large reserves of aluminum ore. Where Government grants land rights to them where minerals are found, they can use those to get lucrative royalties from the mining. And they do.

The point is clear. If Governments want traditional people to derive income from use of biological resources, they need to grant them the property right to the resource. It can be a communal right. Without that right, people cannot negotiate terms on the right to explore or develop that resource or the share of benefits if a valuable resource is discovered.

Trying to secure a stream of income by leveraging off a right to curb processes to grant patents will not work. Inventors and innovators will be deterred from seeking patents. Then there is the problem of agreeing to the value on something entirely unknown. Will the research deliver a commercial product? Most doesn't.

Why are India and Brazil pushing for such an indirect and ineffective approach to delivering benefits to owners of biological resources, and made the success of the Doha Round hostage to acceptance of it? Observers of Indian and Brazilian politics say the Governments are pandering to domestic political interests. They are not in a unique position. Most governments have to manage the political fallout of committing to trade liberalization.

We all know commitments in Brasilia and New Delhi to trade liberalization are weak. But how serious are they about growth and eradication of poverty when they seek to hostage the WTO to commit to a course that will blunt innovation and research in biological and food industries, important drivers in strategies to eliminate poverty?

Alan Oxley is a former Chairman of the GATT, the predecessor of the WTO, and the Chairman of World Growth, a free market NGO.

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3 Comments

And they'd be right about one thing
"India and Brazil blame the United States and the European Union for coddling agriculture and blocking imports from their farmers." And they'd be right. The free market wants these kinds of countries to export agricultural products, but private interests are hindering the first world from ultilizing them. There is all kinds of fallout from subsidizing our farming industries. We end up importing lettuce pickers instead of just the lettuce, people get obese drinking corn syrup from subsidized corn, fuel alcohol is made from corn instead of sugar from the tropics.

Human Freedom & Ownership: The Creative Process
As long as nations of the world maintain reliance on their Old World naturalistic definitions of 'human,' they will maintain the usual causes and results of ongoing millenial regression and poverty.

+ + + +

Consider:
The missing element in every human 'solution' is
an accurate definition of the creature.

The way we define 'human' determines our view
of self, others, relationships, institutions, life, and
future. Important? Only the Creator who made us
in His own image is qualified to define us accurately.

Many problems in human experience are the result of
false and inaccurate definitions of humankind premised
in man-made religions and humanistic philosophies.

Human knowledge is a fraction of the whole universe.
The balance is a vast void of human ignorance. Human
reason cannot fully function in such a void; thus, the
intellect can rise no higher than the criteria by which it
perceives and measures values.

Humanism makes man his own standard of measure.
However, as with all measuring systems, a standard
must be greater than the value measured. Based on
preponderant ignorance and an egocentric carnal
nature, humanism demotes reason to the simpleton
task of excuse-making in behalf of the rule of appe-
tites, desires, feelings, emotions, and glands.

Because man, hobbled in an ego-centric predicament,
cannot invent criteria greater than himself, the humanist
lacks a predictive capability. Without instinct or trans-
cendent criteria, humanism cannot evaluate options with
foresight and vision for progression and survival. Lack-
ing foresight, man is blind to potential consequence and
is unwittingly committed to mediocrity, collectivism,
averages, and regression - and worse. Humanism is an
unworthy worship.

The void of human ignorance can easily be filled with
a functional faith while not-so-patiently awaiting the
foot-dragging growth of human knowledge and behav-
ior. Faith, initiated by the Creator and revealed and
validated in His Word, the Bible, brings a transcend-
ent standard to man the choice-maker. Other philo-
sophies and religions are man-made, humanism, and
thereby lack what only the Bible has:

1.Transcendent Criteria and
2.Fulfilled Prophetic Validation.

The vision of faith in God and His Word is survival
equipment for today and the future.

Human is earth's Choicemaker. Psalm 25:12 He is by
nature and nature's God a creature of Choice - and of
Criteria. Psalm 119:30,173 His unique and definitive
characteristic is, and of Right ought to be, the natural
foundation of his environments, institutions, and re-
spectful relations to his fellow-man. Thus, he is orien-
ted to a Freedom whose roots are in the Order of the
universe.

The arts and the sciences of man, as with his habits,
customs, and traditions, are the creative harvest of
his perceptive and selective powers. Creativity, the
creative process, is a choice-making process. His
articles, constructs, and commodities, however
marvelous to behold, deserve neither awe nor idol-
atry, for man, not his contrivance, is earth's own
highest expression of the creative process.

Human is earth's Choicemaker. The sublime and
significant act of choosing is, itself, the Archimedean
fulcrum upon which man levers and redirects the
forces of cause and effect to an elected level of qual-
ity and diversity. Further, it orients him toward a
natural environmental opportunity, freedom, and
bestows earth's title, The Choicemaker, on his
singular and plural brow.

- from The HUMAN PARADIGM

Jim Baxter
semper fidelis



























It would certainly make trade easier if there were no artificial protections and subsidies
It would also decrease overall costs.

People acros the planet would live better for less.

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