EFTA free trade agreements - EFTA must stop pushing for patents on life in developing countries

Zurich, 26.06.2003 - During their meeting tomorrow in Kristiansand, Norway, Ministers of trade and foreign affairs from the four member states of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) will sign a free trade agreement with Chile containing provisions on the protection of intellectual property rights which go far beyond the WTO rules. Four non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from the four EFTA-States strongly oppose this policy by their governments: the Berne Declaration (Switzerland), the Rainforest Foundation (Norway), Mannvernd (Iceland) and the Liechtenstein Association for Environmental Protection (LGU).

Governments of the EFTA-States keep saying that the WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) does not require developing countries to patent plants and animals and that it leaves them a lot of flexibility with respect to the protection of plant varieties. However, at the same time EFTA is concluding bilateral trade agreements which require developing countries to facilitate the patenting of life and limit farmers’ rights. These “TRIPS-plus” provisions in EFTA free trade agreements will for example restrict the farmers’ right to freely exchange seeds. As a consequence the farmers will more and more often have to pay fees to the big transnational seed corporations.
The four NGOs believe that this policy is fundamentally wrong, as well as contradicting the development policies of the four EFTA-States. In an open letter to the EFTA Ministers meeting in Kristiansand they urge EFTA governments to immediately stop concluding such “TRIPS-plus” agreements with developing countries.

The agreement with Chile is the 5th free trade agreement EFTA-States have concluded with a developing country. They have already signed such treaties with Morocco (1997), the Palestinian Authority (1998), Mexico (2000) and Jordan (2001). All these agreements include “TRIPS-plus” provisions. Presently they are negotiating free trade agreements with Egypt, Lebanon, South Africa and Tunisia. The NGOs fear that also in these cases EFTA-States will put undue pressure on these countries to include provisions for patents on life, which they are not obliged to do by WTO rules.