TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Oct04/4)

5 October 2004

Third World Network



The proposal for a Development Agenda received strong support from most developing countries during a debate on the agenda item on 30 September and 1 October during the WIPO General Assembly

Below is a report on this debate.  The co-sponsors of the proposal also put forward a draft decision, calling for a working group to be established to produce a report on the issue, and for a conference to be organised on intellectual property and development.

This article was first published in the SUNS of 4 October 2004.

With best wishes

Martin Khor





Strong support from South for WIPO “development agenda”

Report by Martin Khor, Geneva, 1 October 2004

A proposal by a group of developing countries to introduce a “development agenda” in the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) received broad-based support from other developing countries at the WIPO General Assembly.

The proposal, which was discussed on 30 Sept and 1 October at the Assembly, however, received a cool reaction from the major developed countries.

Additionally, a draft decision by Argentina and Brazil, the co-sponsors of the initiative, to set up a WIPO working group to integrate the development dimension into WIPO and to organize an international conference on intellectual property and development, was also discussed but no decision had been taken on it by Friday afternoon.

The proposal to establish a development agenda for WIPO (in the form of a paper WO/GA/31/11) was orally presented at the WIPO General Assembly by Brazil and Argentina Thursday.  The other co-signatories to the proposal were Bolivia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Iran, Kenya, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania and Venezuela, most of who also spoke.

The proposal received support from the floor by a large number of developing countries, including Egypt (on behalf of the Africa Group) and Sri Lanka (on behalf of the Asia Group).  Other countries that spoke in support of the proposal were India, Pakistan, the Philippines, China, Oman, Senegal, Ethiopia, Benin, Peru, Colombia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica.

The draft decision submitted by the co-sponsors of the proposal notes that the General Assembly welcomes the ‘development agenda’ proposal and establishes an ad hoc inter-sessional working group on the integration of the development dimension in WIPO, and to consider and prepare recommendations (including measures and actions contained in the proposal) for the next General Assembly.

The draft decision says that the working group will hold three meetings and prepare a report by 30 July 2005, and accredited NGOs can participate as observers.

It adds that the WIPO General Assembly will convene a special international conference on intellectual property (IP) and development to adopt a high-level political declaration.  The International Bureau will also organize with other UN organizations (including UNCTAD, WHO and UNIDO) a joint international seminar on IP and development, to which stakeholders including public interest NGOs and academia will also be invited.

The proposal on establishing the working group was supported by many developing countries, but was implicitly opposed by many developed countries, which suggested instead that an assessment be carried out on the effects of WIPO’s activities on development.  By Friday afternoon, no decision had been taken on the proposed decision.

In introducing the main proposal Thursday, Brazil said that development was recognized including by the UN as a very important principle, and WIPO as a UN agency should be guided by the principles of the UN.  Intellectual property is not an end in itself and cannot be seen as such by WIPO.  If development is the overriding principle, then WIPO should act in support of that goal.

The time had come for WIPO to fully integrate the development dimension in all its work, Brazil said.  The development agenda is a positive agenda and not a negative one.  The proposal is broad and horizontal in addressing all WIPO’s work and is thus addressed to all its subsidiary bodies.

As part of the agenda, WIPO should also act on issues such as technology transfer and anti-competitive practices.  “Our aim is to establish WIPO as a UN agency that generates creative activity and innovation,” Brazil added.

Brazil said that it is an agenda that is inclusive and does not exclude, and that serves the public interest and assists people in all countries.  It referred to the Geneva Declaration on the Future of WIPO - signed by over 500 members of academia and NGOs - as a powerful expression of the voice and aspirations of the public including in the developed countries, about the need for a broad development agenda in WIPO.

Argentina said the proposal touches on the very essence of WIPO. Development is a core aspect of the international agenda and cannot be avoided by the UN and its specialized agencies.  WIPO has been a specialized agency of the UN, and the UN in its agreement with WIPO recognized WIPO’s role in promoting creative intellectual activity, enhancing technology transfer and speeding up development.

This was not a symbolic text, Argentina said, and since 1974, WIPO is subjected to the UN’s goals.  The proposal calls on WIPO to play its developmental role and members of WIPO have the responsibility to lead the organization in this direction.  What was surprising is not that the proposal is being made, Argentina added, but the surprise is that is it only now being made in 2004.

Egypt, on behalf of the Africa Group, said development was Africa’s highest priority and it was only natural for Africa to welcome the proposal to put development at the forefront of WIPO’s activities.  It was also only natural for WIPO to build on its existing work for developing countries by integrating development in all its activities so as to ensure that development is addressed in a holistic way.

“We wish to affirm our support for the main objectives and principles of the document and the wider process to discuss a development agenda for WIPO,” Egypt said, adding, “We hope for quick action on this basis.”

South Africa, speaking in support of the proposal, said that development must be mainstreamed in WIPO.  No new WIPO instruments should proceed without being informed by the development dimension.

Sri Lanka, on behalf of the Asia Group, said that the proposal was timely in that it would leverage the aim of reaching the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and complement WIPO’s economic programmes.  It added that establishing a working group on the development agenda was a good idea.  The Asia Group agreed with some of the proposals in the agenda and would like to further consider some other of its proposals.

India said that with all the damage caused by the TRIPS Agreement of the WTO, there might be a silver lining, in that it has raised public consciousness worldwide as to the problems associated with intellectual property.

As developing countries moved to fulfil their obligations under TRIPS, they faced major challenges and realized that they need policy flexibility, and that global IP regimes need to be flexible.  The objective of IP should be to maximize public welfare, and policy space should be respected. However, the process of harmonisation of patent laws has the danger of promoting the interests of rent seekers.

India added that for developing countries to benefit, there must be an obligation for industrial countries to transfer technology.  In the absence of this, the asymmetrical flow of royalties from the South would be a permanent feature.

Remarking that TRIPS is a tribute to the logic of power, not economics or fairness, India stated that a WIPO development agenda would help steer the organization away from the same course.  No longer would developing countries agree that IP will nurture innovation everywhere.  IP exists to serve patent holders, who are mainly in the North, at the expense of public interest.

Each country needs flexibility in IP policy, so that it can ensure that the costs outweigh the benefits.  India said that it fully supported the objective of the Brazil/Argentina proposal, as the proposal will contribute to integrating the development dimension in WIPO activities.

“We want the proposal to be translated into action, including the establishment of a working group on the development agenda,” India said.

The Philippines also supported the proposal and favoured a working group that should report to the General Assembly next year.  Pakistan also spoke in favour of evolving a comprehensive development agenda for WIPO, and for proposals to be developed in a committee.  It suggested a moratorium on new IP norms.

The major developed countries were not as supportive of action on a development agenda in WIPO.  They indicated that WIPO had been doing enough for developing countries, and instead of establishing a working group on a development agenda, an assessment should be carried out of WIPO’s work as it relates to development.

Canada, speaking on behalf of Group B (whose members are the developed countries), welcomed the opportunity to discuss the proposal.  It said the strategic goals of WIPO are correct and it should build on its core competency and enhance the IP system.  Canada noted that WIPO gives developing countries advice and tools to integrate IP in development policy.  WIPO coordinates with other UN agencies and each has an important role to play.  The Group B view is that WIPO has ensured that the work done does not duplicate that of other UN agencies.

The Netherlands, speaking for the EU, said that WIPO has a role to promote creative intellectual activity and technology transfer, as in its agreement with the UN.  WIPO has accomplished important work in which developing countries have participated.  It added that strengthening WIPO’s work can only be done if the international IP system is understood and accepted.

The Netherlands said that WIPO should evaluate its contribution to the MDGs including its technical cooperation programme.  It asked the international bureau to assess WIPO’s contribution to the MDGs and report to the appropriate bodies.

The US said that it agreed with the sponsors of the proposal that development is important, but noted that the proposal suggests that strong IP levels may be detrimental to the global IP goals and that WIPO has disregarded this premise.  The US said that it could not agree with this.

Whilst IP alone would not bring about development, the notion that weakening IP standards can bring about development is flawed, the US added.  The notion that WIPO has disregarded development is untenable.  WIPO has set aside resources for development purposes and WIPO treaties have flexibilities, and developing countries do not have to accede to WIPO treaties if they do not want to. The US welcomed an assessment of WIPO programmes so that they can address the concerns of developing countries.