Opponents Say Inclusion Of IP Issues Would Set Back WTO Talks

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By Kaitlin Mara
A small group of countries opposing the inclusion of intellectual property-related issues in World Trade Organization negotiations has issued their response to an earlier “non-paper” that had called for IP issues to be integrated with the upcoming horizontal, or all-inclusive, negotiations at the WTO.

“We … wish to express our strong opposition to this proposal, and our conviction that it would substantially set back efforts to arrive at a viable way forward for the Doha negotiations,” the group said in the new non-paper, issued 6 June. “We are united by a joint concern that the current delicate stage in the DDA [Doha Development Agenda] negotiations should not be unnecessarily disrupted by efforts to rush, revisit, reinterpret or change our existing negotiating mandates.”

The paper is referring to a 26 May proposal, in the form of another “non-paper” seeking to ensure that three major IP issues are on the table for the horizontal trade talks (IPW, WTO/TRIPS, 9 June 2008).

The text of the new non-paper can be downloaded here: TRIPS non-paper [doc].

The three IP issues are: the creation of a register for geographical indications (GIs, product names associated with a specific place and characteristics) for wines and spirits; the extension of high-level protection to GIs other than wines and spirits, and the possible amending of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement in line with commitments to preserve biodiversity made under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

The new non-paper said it rejected the “artificial parallelism” the earlier paper created between the GI extension issue and the so-called CBD amendment because significant divisions exist on a variety of details even within each of the proposals.

“Each of the TRIPs issues cited in the non-paper has its own terms of reference, and particular subject matter,” the paper said. “Many technical issues remain, and the extent and interest of members in the content and potential outcomes for each issue varies considerably.” It cited GI-extension, where it asserted that “even basic objectives are far apart, discussions have revealed no consensus, and the suggested draft modalities text presented by the demandeurs prejudges an outcome.”

In a footnote, the paper protests that the earlier paper referred to supporters as “proponents of TRIPS issues,” and asserted that there are members that have made proposals on TRIPS issues that do not support the earlier paper linking this with GIs.

The new non-paper opposing IP-issue discussion in Doha was signed by nine members, including the United States, Chile, and Australia. The older non-paper supporting inclusion of IP issues has the support of almost all GI extension supporters and CBD amendment supporters, representing more than 100 members.

However, a few countries that have supported inclusion of a TRIPS issue did not sign the first non-paper. Concern was expressed by an interested party that the paper assumed disclosure proponents and GI extension proponents were trying to find agreement between them. It is not necessarily the case that a supporter of one issue would support the other or a trade-off, the source said.

Some countries take the view that the Doha process should encompass only agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA). But the earlier non-paper proponent argued that agriculture and NAMA are not unrelated to other issues on the table. For example, the European Union may view GIs as a trade-off for concessions in agriculture. The process can only be considered horizontal, the source said, if all issues are included.

In their non-paper, the opponents acknowledged that some members need “assurances” that TRIPS “implementation” issues such as GI extension and the CBD amendment “will not be left behind.” But they argued that to mix “these distinct, divisive and highly technical TRIPS issues” into the current “highly sensitive context” would “go well beyond those assurances.”

It was not clear from the paper what alternative assurances might be suggested by the opponents. But proponents have repeatedly asked when their issues would come up if not now.

Kaitlin Mara may be reached at kmara@ip-watch.ch.

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