Specialty Crops Regulatory Initiative

The Specialty Crops Regulatory Initiative, launched in November 2004, is a collaborative effort to establish an organization to facilitate, and reduce the cost of, the regulatory approval of biotechnology-derived specialty crops.18 This initiative seeks to play a role in this area similar to that of the IR-4 Project of the USDA to facilitate approval of pesticides for small crops, and the Orphan Drug Act to encourage the development of new drugs for diseases with small markets.

Economists have developed other proposals that merit serious attention. Masters (2003) is promoting a system of prizes to encourage innovations that offer social value to rural Africans, to reduce the gap between perceived private returns and social value (the 'consumer surplus') and provide more incentive for profit-oriented initiatives in the public interest. Kremer and Zwane (2005) propose a related programme, with more specific goals.

Lanjouw (2003) advocates a change in domestic patent law that encourages holders of key pharmaceutical patents that have their largest potential market in developed countries to grant effective freedom to operate in a list of less developed countries, provided production is not exported back to protected markets. This initiative could be expanded to include key agricultural biotechnology patents.

Finally, all nations should be aware of the need for access to expertise in the law, economics and administration of IPP, in international negotiations and in formulation of domestic policies. Some informed observers believe, for example, that Australian negotiators, expert on trade questions, were outmatched on key IP issues in the recent bilateral negotiations with the USA. Expertise is available on the world market, at a price. Developing countries need to make the educational investments required to establish the domestic capacity to identify the appropriate international sources of expertise and to use these sources effectively. This is a significant challenge.

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