GENTECH archive


RAFI: OAPI Out-of-Step with OAU and Others

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Date:  Wed, 24 Feb 1999 13:45:35 -0800

***  Francophone African OAPI States Are Out-of-Step  ***
***      with OAU and other African Countries         ***

Francophone African member governments of OAPI (l'Organisation Africaine de
la Propriete Intellectuelle/African Intellectual Property Organization) may
take a decision this Thursday which runs counter to initiatives in the
Organization for African Unity and to recommendations from a meeting of
over 60 African government officials held in Zambia a few weeks ago.

OAPI is winding up a meeting this week in the Central African Republic, and
may well adopt "UPOV 91" -  the strictest international agreement on "Plant
Breeder's Rights". Plant Breeder's Rights grant patent-like monopolies over
plants.  Many observers believe OAPI's move is premature, and are urging
its member governments to delay their decision,  and consider other
options, before embarking on a course they may later regret.

Under the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on the Trade Related
Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPs), all signatory governments must
adopt some form of intellectual property rights over plants.  But they are
under no obligation to adopt the highly restrictive UPOV 91 agreement (see
below), which limits the rights of farmers to save "proprietary" seed for
re-use.  Instead they could develop sui generis (specially designed)
legislation for plants as well as exercise their ordre public options under
TRIPs to prevent privatization of plants and biodiversity.

In fact, African governments are already looking at other options to meet
their (sometimes conflicting) obligations under TRIPs and the 1992
Convention on Biological Diversity.

At a meeting from March 20-23 last year, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the
Scientific, Technical and Research Commission of the Organization for
African Unity (OAU) issued a declaration which observed that "African
countries had negligible or no inputs into the negotiations [that created
the World Trade Organization]".  They went on to say that "the WTO-based
approach is predatory in nature and runs counter to the aspirations of
communities which are in the first place the innovators of biodiversity so
necessary for the survival of the planet".  They signaled the need to
carefully consider how intellectual property requirements of the WTO and
related obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity would
affect Africans.

Two months later, at a June Summit of the OAU in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso,
African Heads of  State agreed to "develop an African Common Position to
safeguard the sovereign rights of Member States and the vital interests of
our local communities and forge alliance with other countries of the South
on the revision of TRIPS in 1999."

Just last month (January 11-15, 1999), in Lusaka Zambia, 62 government
representatives at an African Regional Workshop on Understanding
Biodiversity Related Instruments agreed to develop sui generis intellectual
property legislation to cover plants - which would be compatible with
TRIPs, but would also protect "Farmers Rights" - including the right of
farmers to save seed for re-planting.  They were to have a draft completed
by mid March of this year.

Why the Rush?
In light of these initiatives elsewhere in Africa, and the upcoming review
of TRIPs, it is premature for OAPI member states to adopt UPOV 91
legislation now.  Not only is it out-of-step with other developments in
Africa, it would lock governments into legislation that no other developing
country has adopted, and which is far more restrictive than is necessary to
meet their international  obligations.

What is OAPI?
The precursor to OAPI was established on September 13, 1962, by 12
francophone African heads of state.  It was called the "Office Africain et
Malgache de la Propriete Industrielle (OAMPI).  The agreement establishing
OAMPI was revised in Bangui, Central African Republic on March 27, 1977,
and gave birth to OAPI, the "Organisation Africaine de la Propriete
Intellectuelle". It has 15 members:  Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central
African Republic, Chad, Congo, Djibouti, Gabon, Guinea, Ivory Coast,
Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Togo.

What is UPOV 91?
UPOV is Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants / lUnion pour
la protection des obtentions vegetales  Its original Plant Breeder's Rights
(PBR) Convention was adopted in Paris in 1961.  Since then the Convention
has been amended several times and two forms of PBR are now in common use.
Most UPOV members adhere to its 1978 Convention, which is widely
interpreted by governments to allow farmers to save and exchange seed.
UPOV's 1991 Convention, however, assumes that farmers can not save seed
unless governments permit specific exceptions. To date, the only 11 UPOV
members have adopt the 1991 Convention are Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany,
Israel, Japan, Netherlands, Moldova, Russia, Sweden, UK and USA.  None are
developing countries.

What is RAFI?
RAFI (The Rural Advancement Foundation International) is an international
civil society organization head-quartered in Canada, and governed by an
international Board of Trustees.  RAFI is dedicated to the conservation and
sustainable use of biodiversity, and to the socially responsible
development of technologies useful to rural societies.  RAFI is concerned
about the loss of agricultural biodiversity, the impact of intellectual
property on biotechnology and food security, and the governance of
international institutions that affect rural communities.  RAFI has roster
status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and
consulting status with the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

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