TWN Info on WTO and Trade Issues (Apr05/9)

20 April 2005

TWN's Statement at the WIPO Development Agenda Meeting

Below please find the statement presented by the Third World Network
during the Development Agenda meeting of WIPO held on 11-13 April 2005.

On 13 April, several NGOs were given time to speak.  Besides TWN, there were many NGOs representing consumer organizations, health groups and associations of librarians, etc. that also spoke.

With best wishes
Martin Khor


Firstly, the Third World Network would like to thank the WIPO and its member states for allowing our organization to be present at this important meeting.

The reason we have come together and dedicated 3 precious days of our life to this intergovernmental intersessional meeting is because a large number of developing countries and many segments of the civil society in both South and North are not satisfied in general with the current global IP system and specifically with the “status quo” situation in WIPO, with regard to development and public interest implications.

10 years have passed since TRIPS came into being, harmonizing minimum IP standards that should be applied by all WTO member states.  There is a broad feeling among civil society that the TRIPS minimum standards are already too high for developing countries. TRIPS removed many flexibilities that countries enjoyed (such as exempting patents in some sensitive sectors such as food and medicines) and instead imposed a range of obligations before many developing countries were in a position to undertake those obligations.

Following the obligation to implement TRIPS, many developing countries found themselves having to deal with problems such as high prices and limited access to essential goods such as medicines and educational materials, limited access to information and to technology and inputs that are necessary for production. Another problem is the misappropriation of genetic resources.

While many developing countries today are still grappling to implement the minimum IP standards prescribed by TRIPS, understand the costs and benefits of these standards and implications on society, extensive norm-setting, which in many ways goes beyond TRIPS has and is taking place in WIPO.

It appears that WIPO is taking on a maximalist IP agenda of “the more rights the better”. In WIPO’s quest to serve mostly the interest of the IP right holders, the fundamental and delicate balance between public and private rights has been lost, and is now very much tilted in favor of the rights holder.

During the last General Assembly, The Geneva Declaration on the Future of the World Intellectual Property Organization in support of Establishing a WIPO DA was released. It comprehensively detailed the concerns of over 500 scientists, academics, economists, legal experts, consumer and health activists including Nobel laureates, mostly from the developed countries with regard to the current trends taking place in the international IP system. The Declaration states and I quote:

Humanity stands at a crossroads – a fork in our moral code and a test of our ability to adapt and grow.   Will we evaluate, learn and profit from the best of these new ideas and opportunities, or will we respond to the most unimaginative pleas to suppress all of this in favor of intellectually weak, ideologically rigid, and sometimes brutally unfair and inefficient policies?  Much will depend upon the future direction of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a global body setting standards that regulate the production, distribution and use of knowledge.

Many concerns were also raised at an NGO meeting called the “Future of WIPO” organized by a forum that represents 65 consumer organizations from the US and EU, prior to the launch of the declaration, that WIPO activities are disseminating a dysfunctional IP system to the developing world through the WIPO treaties.

Today WIPO and its Member States are in an exceptional position to decide whether WIPO is going to be part of the problem or the solution in the global IP system

From the debate that is taking place, there seems to be a keen interest and will among many of the developing countries to begin undertaking the reforms within WIPO to incorporate a development dimension in all its activities and to ensure that as a specialized agency of the UN, it becomes a custodian of balance between public and private interest as well as between the realm of property and public domain, if we are to have a global IP system that truly promotes innovation, international development and human well being.

In this regard we would like to briefly point out 5 key areas that we think are essential in the reform of WIPO

1.         A review of existing treaties in WIPO should be undertaken. Many of these treaties are not known to be in favor of development or developing countries. While ratification of many of the WIPO treaties is optional, there is increasing pressure from developed countries through bilateral trade agreements to undertake obligations in these treaties as part of the deal although there may be no proven benefit to developing countries.

The exercise of reviewing existing treaties is common in other organizations such as the WTO which is reviewing aspects of the TRIPS agreement, as well as the agriculture agreement. WIPO should endeavor to undertake a similar exercise and determine whether the existing treaties hinder developing countries from pursuing their development goals, and seek to rectify the relevant areas of the treaties where necessary.

2.         In relation to present and future norm-setting activity in WIPO, there should be prior to any such exercise, an assessment of the impact of the treaty on development and public interest should be undertaken.   Also, proposals should be evaluated according to their development and public-interest impact.

3.         WIPO should also undertake a “positive agenda” for development, meaning treaties that promote the interest of society at large. This could include the creation of treaties, for example on access to knowledge, on access to technology, on minimum limitations and exceptions in relation to copyright and patent protection.

4.      On the issue of technical assistance, WIPO’s activities and the content of its programmes must be balanced and development oriented.  For example, WIPO should give at least equal emphasis on the flexibilities available in IP treaties and how to translate these to national law and practice.   An evaluation of the TA programme and a re-orientation towards development and public interest goals should be undertaken.  

5.       WIPO has to be more member driven, transparent and participatory.  It would appear that it is often the WIPO secretariat that is preparing proposals and presenting it to member states for discussion. In other international organizations, it is Members that put forward the proposals. Thus we would urge WIPO to be a more member driven organization.  It should also be inclusive.  The kind of meeting that took place in Casablanca recently, where only selected members were invited, should not take place.  All members should decide on the nature and holding of meetings and be invited.      Also, we hope that WIPO enable the increased participation of NGOs, especially the non-commercial organizations of civil society.

Finally, we would like to express our support for the proposal submitted by the FOD and other relevant suggestions made by other member states in favour of a comprehensive development agenda.  We believe the FOD paper contains concrete and constructive proposals on how to incorporate the development dimension in WIPO’s activities.

We hope that this meeting will find a process that will take the whole range of the proposals in the FOD paper forward so that they can be discussed in the General Assembly and various committees of WIPO and an effective solution for a positive way forward can be found.

Statement was presented by Sangeeta Shashikant on behalf of
Third World Network