Apr 7, 1990


GENEVA, APRIL 5 (BY CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN) -- The European Community's proposals for an amendment of GATT to provide for minimum uniform international standards and disciplines for intellectual property protection came for some sharp criticism Thursday at the meeting of the Uruguay Round Negotiating Group on Trade-related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), according to Third World participants.

A large number of Third World countries, from South Korea in the Far East to Chile in the South-West, took the floor to reject the EEC proposals as unacceptable or criticise it on its specific details, including the attempt to incorporate it in the GATT, participants said.

The united opposition of Third World countries, coming on top of signs of a slowly emerging Third World position on the round evidenced by last month's statement of the informal Third World group in GATT, the Delhi meeting of some 18 Third World countries, the paper put forward by some 14 Third World countries on the investment issue, the SELA paper on Services and an impending one from other Third World countries, as well as the reported moves of Third World countries to present their own proposals on TRIPs - appear toll have unnerved the GATT secretariat as well as the major ICs, Third World sources said.

In a reference to all these, the European Community delegate reportedly spoke in the TRIPs group that it was not GATT tradition to form groups or blocs.

As one Third World participant commented outside, it is perfectly reasonable for the major ICs to meet periodically and coordinate their positions - at quadrilateral meetings (of Canada, EEC, Japan and the U.S.A.) or at EEC-EFTA gathering or within the OECD - but unreasonable and against GATT tradition for Third World countries to meet and coordinate among themselves.

Outside the GATT, the Swedish Trade Minister, Ms. Anita Gradin told newsmen, after an EFTA Ministerial meeting in Geneva this week, that reports from various negotiating groups showed a clear North-South conflict in the Uruguay Round.

The EEC's proposals, presented to the TRIPs group Monday had called for insertion of a new Article IX bis and an Annex II into the General Agreement obligating countries to abide by the Paris Conventions on IPRs as revised at Stockholm and the Berne Convention on copyright as revised at Paris, and for additional enhanced standards in a whole range of IPRs, adopt stipulated national enforcement procedures, and enable countries to use GATT dispute settlement mechanisms to agitate the grievances of their TNCs in these matters and retaliate by withdrawal of concessions in goods.

A wide range of Third World countries including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Egypt, India, South Korea, Malaysia, Nigeria, Peru, Uruguay, and Yugoslavia, took the floor to attack the EEC proposals. All of them noted that the concerns of Third World countries on development and technological objectives of public policy had been totally ignored in the proposals of the EEC as also of other proposals of the ICs on the table, and so long as these unaddressed, the TRIPs negotiations would get nowhere.

The detailed EEC proposals for domestic enforcement, the attempt, in violation of norms of international law, to compel, through the instrumentality of GATT, the undertaking obligations under other international conventions and amendments to them by countries which had not accepted them, and virtually amend such conventions by the demand for enhanced standards and abrogating the exceptions and stipulations in public interest, was unacceptable, the Third World delegations said with varying nuances.

India, in two lengthy interventions, reportedly traced the history of patent laws and regimes and practices of the Industrial Countries, their differing standards and exclusion of various sectors, refusal of many of them to extend process patents to products in order to encourage innovation, and the use of compulsory licensing to ensure working of patents.

All these, India said, underscored the need for considerable flexibility and autonomy for Third World countries in determining the nature of their IPR regimes, the inclusion or exclusion of sectors from protection and the term of protection, compulsory licensing to secure working of the patent and attack abuse of monopoly rights, and the balancing of rights and obligations of patent holders and private privileges and public interest.

The U.S. reportedly repeated its arguments that Third World countries were hoping to get technology free, and cited U.S. history to argue that U.S. advancement in technology and industry was due to its patent legislation dating back to 1790.

(The U.S., however, joined the Berne convention on copyright only last year, having refused international obligations all this time in order to protect its domestic printing industry).

India however cited its own history to make the contrary point. One of the first acts of the British Crown, on assuming direct rule in India in 1857, was to introduce in 1859 patent monopolies, and this regime had continued till 1970, when India changed its patent laws. The history of that period showed that technological innovation and industrialisation and development in India had suffered a setback.

A number of other Third world participants, supporting India, made clear that any proposal ignoring the development aspects was totally unacceptable to them. All of them also made clear that any TRIPs accord could neither be located in GATT nor linked to the GATT rights and obligations.

The EEC claimed that its proposal for amending GATT and locating the TRIPs accord in it was only a "technical" one, essential to integrate it into GATT and provide for multilateral settlement of disputes to block unilateral retaliation.

The EEC also suggested that all countries should be ready to make sacrifices for the common good and amend their domestic laws to conform to international norms and strengthen multilateralism.

Colombia asked the EEC why it did not follow that logic and agree to amend its domestic and community laws on agriculture and ends its common agricultural policy?

The EEC had no response.

India in rejecting the attempt to lodge any TRIPs accord in GATT warned that by introducing such disparate elements and systems with no real connection with trade, they would only succeed in collapsing the creaking GATT system.

Brazil compared the move to a computer virus that destroyed entire computer systems and incapacitated them.

The arguments of ICs that only uniform international norms would further technological innovation and transfers was described by India as facile while Brazil called it infantile arguments.

All Third World delegations reportedly warned that if the development dimensions were not addressed, there would be no progress in the negotiations.

In informal consultations within the group, the U.S. would appear to have indicated that it would be tabling its own formal legal draft before the next meeting in May while India is reported to have said that a number of Third World countries would present their own proposals and text before the next meeting.