The Implications of TRIPS

The property rights regimes created in response to the GATT mandate for gradual compliance with TRIPS are still evolving in many countries. But concerns have been raised that plant patenting could mean that traditional farmers might lose the rights to cultivate their own landraces (see, for example, Rural Advancement Foundation International, 1994). Current CGIAR policy precludes such expropriation of materials in its gene banks, but judicial treatment of the legal claims of private breeding corporations is still evolving. Proponents of farmers' rights to their own germplasm have some cause to worry (see, for example, the panel discussion in Adams et al., 1994, pp. 255-271). Researchers in the public as well as private sectors are naturally concerned if broad rights to biotechnology research in a given crop are claimed by large corporations, even if they realize that there is a high probability that such claims will eventually be denied via legal challenges.

On the other hand, there is little evidence that TRIPS will increase genetic diversity significantly via its intended stimulation of private crop breeding activity. In the absence of incentives for public or private breeders directed specifically at diversity, 'Decisions in applied breeding programs are based on breeding progress and not genetic diversity' (Gizlice et al., 1993, p. 623). TRIPS will probably have, at most, a modest effect on the demand for genes from farmers' landraces.

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