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OECS Intellectual Property Task Force Formed

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Contact: Rose Marie Harris

October 21, 1999 - OECS member states are working on formulating a legal framework for the protection of plant varieties and technological innovations and related aspects in agriculture.

During Monday’s opening of a OECS Intellectual Property Task Force for Agriculture meeting, a top agricultural official said there are many constraints to be overcome, if OECS states are to capitalize on the benefits from the management of the islands natural resources and their trade.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Dr. James Fletcher emphasised that today agriculture and the viability of the islands social and economic sectors are under threat from trade liberalisation, market competitiveness and the rapid pace of new technology. "In addition many of our natural resources and genetic diversity have been lost due to exploitation, lack of knowledge on our part of the market potential and lack of resources to capitalise on our ideas and develop new technologies or products."

Dr. Fletcher added, "Intellectual property rights is quickly becoming a familiar term in the Caribbean and this is especially so due to the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The TRIPS Agreement has many implications for developing countries especially our small island states. The Caribbean has a wide variety of generic resources, much of which has been exploited at no benefit, economic or otherwise, to the OECS."

Legal protection for plant varieties is an obligation by all WTO member countries under the Agreement in Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The intention of TRIPS is to reduce distortions and impediments to international trade and to promote effective and adequate protection of intellectual property rights. TRIPS also has to ensure that measures and procedures to enforce intellectual property rights do not themselves become barriers to legitimate trade. This move towards the privatization of plant varieties has placed developing countries under obligations to protect plant varieties by patents or by an alternative sui generis system.

The objective of the three day meeting is to prepare a model framework for a sui generis system. This goes beyond the minimum requirements for satisfying the TRIPS Agreement but allows developing countries to consider their own unique situation that is the need to satisfy not only the interests and rights of domestic seed and biotechnology industries, but those of farmers and local communities. It also allows consideration for the use and conservation of bio diversity. In this regard the model will reflect the most appropriate elements of an intellectual property right sui generis for plant genetic resources for the region. Accordingly in preparing the model, the Taskforce will examine options, for a sui generis system that would protect plant varieties, traditional or indigenous knowledge, farmers rights, and traditional rights.

The meeting is being hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment in collaboration with the Inter American Institute for Cooperation in agriculture IICA the Caricom and OECS Secretariats.


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