Letter of Biplab Dasgupta, Dy. Leader of the CPI(M) group in the Rajya Sabha to Union Minister for Commerce and Industry on the WTO Conference at Seattle.
Dear Shri Maran,
As a member of the Indian delegation to Seattle, I think I ought to let you know, in brief, the position of myself and my Party on a variety of issues:
1. We should not allow environment standard and labour standard related issues to be put on the agenda either at Seattle, or during the millennium round. Similarly, we should oppose uniform rules on other fields such as government procurement, services, investment and competition policy. In general, we should oppose imposition of standarised norms for the entire world that can only work to the advantage of the rich countries and their MNCs. This would be taking globalisation to its absurd length, that rules out the option of indusrialisation and getting out of the poverty trap, apart from keeping India perpetually dependent on the rich country MNCs. Given the relative bargaining strength of the two, such rules would be framed, with MNCs advise, to promote rich country interests.
2. We should try to devise ways of avoiding patent on life forms, or, if that can not be achieved:
- to find ways of avoiding ‘bio-piracy’ by requiring patent applicants any where in the world to specify the origin of their genetic material, and to ensure that the export laws and other rules of the country of origin have been respected by the applicant.
- to resist any attempt by the rich but biologically poor countries to take away various safeguards provided by articles 27.2 and 27.3 of the TRIPs agreement, e.g., such as those which empower the government concerned to deny patent protection to inventions that involve (i) "diagnostic, therapeutic and surgical methods for the treatment of humans and animals" etc. (ii) involve "biological processes (other than microbiological process) for their production, and (iii) or for reasons of public order, morality or for protection of human life or for protecting environment. These are wide enough to give the government a great deal of discretionary power, than can be used in national interest;
- . to resist attempt to withdraw ‘sui generis’ provision in relation to plant varieties as an alternative to patent protection; and to demand the right to define the term in our own way; so that it does not amount to choosing an alternative such as UPOV (1991 version) that is loaded in favour of the breeders, most of whom are likely to be MNCs
- To insist on the ironing out of the conflict between the emphasis on ‘conformity’ in TRIPs (1994), and the clear CBD(1993) theme that diversity is the essence of life and that TRIPs should not harm bio-diversity. Both of these two major internal documents, signed by practically all the governments of the world, can not be right at the same time.
1. We should raise the issue, why this concern about ‘piracy’ of intellectual property now when, historically, each and every developed country of today borrowed or copied technology of the other countries in the course of their own development? The effect of globalisation of patent regime now is to make such copying impossible and, thus, to take away the option of reverse engineering that was available until recently, and to consign them to permanent dependence on the MNCs who control more than 80% of world patents, for technology.
2. If the opportunity arises, we should demand the revision of patent time period in the TRIPs agreement to 5 years or so, in place of 20 years specified by TRIPs, in this age of fast changing technologies and the emergence of new products.
3. We should also insist on a speedier implementation of the Marakesh agreement on MFA, and demand a revised time schedule for this agreement, in line with other agreements that adversely affect poor country exports, that is not ‘back-loaded’.
4. We should demand a rethinking on the issue of subsidy and a complete withdrawal of the enormous, mind-boggling subsidies given by US and European governments to their agriculturists, that makes high cost, non-viable agriculture an important export item at low prices. The definition of subsidy should be simple and not concocted to make US subsidies appear ‘non-production distorting’. If phasing of subsidy withdrawal is to be accepted, such phasing should not be based on percentages, but should aim at complete abolition within the coming 2-3 years in quantitative terms.
5. We should insist on the multilateral settlement of trade disputes, and the scrapping of Super 301, and the US legislation on Uruguay Round that makes the US legislation, in case of conflict, to prevail over Uruguay round requirements.
This is the minimum we should aim at, by mobilising third world opinion in favour of those. We need not diffuse our effort by trying to reach many countries, but concentrate on countries like Brazil, Mexico, Argentine, South Africa and ASEAN, while keeping the South Asian neighbours firmly with us. Unlike last time, in 1994, we should not throw in the towel even before the battle begins.
Sd/- (Dr. Biplab Dasgupta)
Shri. Murasoli Maran,
Minister of Industry and Commerce,
Government of India New Delhi.