WTO TRIPS Council To Discuss Biodiversity, Enforcement, “Housekeeping” 10/10/2006 by Tove Iren S. Gerhardsen for Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service, and subscribing to our service helps support our goals of bringing more transparency to global IP and innovation policies. To access all of our content, please subscribe now. You also have the opportunity to offer additional support to your subscription, or to donate. By Tove Iren S. Gerhardsen Developing countries say they will push their proposal on biodiversity and the European Union is sharply stepping up its call for enforcement, but otherwise the preliminary agenda of an upcoming World Trade Organization meeting on intellectual property seems to be reserved for “housekeeping” issues, according to sources. The meeting of the Council of the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) is planned for 25-26 October. As the overall free-trade talks arising from the 2001 WTO ministerial in Doha, Qatar have been in limbo since July, the issues in the TRIPS Council related to these talks are not expected to move, a developing country source said. “Everything is quiet,” a Thai official told Intellectual Property Watch, adding that “even in the TRIPS Council” there seems to be a “mode of wait and see.” Little is expected to happen in the TRIPS Council until the general talks move in the area of agriculture and non-agricultural market access, the source said, adding, “I hope [the TRIPS Council meeting will be] short and sharp.” A developed country official said that this likely would be a meeting on “housekeeping” issues, while an EU official said that many of the issues are “ongoing business” from previous meetings. TRIPS Biodiversity Issue Returns But another developing country official told Intellectual Property Watch that the six developing countries that tabled a proposal in May on the relationship between the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the TRIPS agreement regarded the upcoming council meeting as an opportunity to “bring the issue back” (IPW, WTO/TRIPS, 1 June 2006). The official said that the six countries had not discussed the issue since the collapse of the talks. [Editor’s Note: The number of countries supporting the proposed amendment later grew to as many as ten, IPW, WTO, 7 June 2006] The Thai official said that there are “lots of problems with biopiracy in Thailand,” despite the introduction of national laws two years ago, showing the need for international regulation. The May proposal suggests adding a new Article 29bis to the TRIPS agreement. TRIPS Article 29 covers disclosure requirements of inventions for patent applicants. The proposal suggests that it should become mandatory to disclose, in the application form, the source of biological resources and/or associated traditional knowledge, as well as show that authorisation has been given and that a benefit-sharing scheme for possible economic gain is in place. At the moment, there is little these developing countries could trade this off with in a “quid-pro-quo” fashion, a source said. Some countries have suggested issues related to digital copyrights, which have been debated at the World Intellectual Property Organization, but some developing countries are not ready for that trade off, the source said. The Thai official said developed countries had asked for proof of the occurrence of biopiracy. EU Pushes Enforcement Enforcement seems to be a major theme at the meeting, as it will encompass both the annual accession review of China and an earlier EU proposal. Also on the draft agenda is to discuss countries’ implementation of TRIPS. The accession review of China’s membership in the WTO will be “just a regular review,” one source said, but the European Union, Japan and the United States have prepared questions for China. China would reply to these orally in the council, the source said. Last year, the United States took issue with China’s IP enforcement progress in the council but a source said that this issue is being settled bilaterally outside of the WTO (IPW, WTO/TRIPS 26 October 2006). The source said that the agenda item on the European Communities enforcement proposal would fall under the “standard” category. This relates to two documents submitted to the TRIPS Council in March and June, in which the European Communities argue for the council to review enforcement of obligations under TRIPS to fight piracy and counterfeiting (IPW, WTO/TRIPS, 28 October 2005). But the EU appears to be stepping up its efforts. An EU official told Intellectual Property Watch that the EU would “stress once again” the importance of enforcement in relation to intellectual property and TRIPS in particular. The official said that the EU would refer to its previous proposal, but also its recent enforcement directive as well as other measures in a “here is what we are doing” manner. While people from the Directorate General (DG) Trade will attend the meeting, these initiatives would be presented by people from DG Internal Market, the official said. EU Shifts Trade Focus The European Commission announced a new trade strategy on 4 October. It involves a renewed trade strategy with China (it will publish a paper on the topic on 24 October), protection of intellectual property rights, removing trade barriers and a strong bilateral focus, according to a speech given by Commissioner Peter Mandelson. In a Commission staff working document related to EU’s growth and jobs strategy (SEC2006 1230), it says it will “focus its enforcement efforts on a small set of priority countries,” with China being the main target. Others are ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asia Nations), Korea, Mercosur (Southern Cone Common Market), Russia and Ukraine, the document says. The Commission also recently published the results of an enforcement study begun in 2005, which is a “survey of business on the intellectual property rights problems they face abroad,” Mandelson said. Mandelson said that “Doha remains our top priority” and that the WTO “is the most effective means of expanding and managing world trade.” But free trade agreements would be more important to the EU, although its values appear to be changing. From reaching “objectives in our neighbourhood; and our responsibilities towards the developing world,” the EU will focus more on “economic and competitiveness consideration” in these deals in the future, Mandelson said. TRIPS and Public Health Webpage Separately, the WTO said it has updated its web pages on TRIPS and public health, reflecting the agreement that was reached in December 2005 (IPW, WTO/TRIPS, 6 December 2005). The page lists the countries that have incorporated the changes into national law so far, including the United States, Switzerland and El Salvador. At the meeting, countries could state whether they are implementing the changes into national law, and whether they plan to make use of TRIPS flexibilities, a source said. Tove Gerhardsen may be reached at email@example.com. 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