WTO: 2008 NEWS ITEMS

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NOTE:
THIS NEWS ITEM IS DESIGNED TO HELP THE PUBLIC UNDERSTAND DEVELOPMENTS IN THE WTO. WHILE EVERY EFFORT HAS BEEN MADE TO ENSURE THE CONTENTS ARE ACCURATE, IT DOES NOT PREJUDICE MEMBER GOVERNMENTS’ POSITIONS. THE OFFICIAL RECORD IS IN THE  MEETING’S MINUTES 
  

> More on geographical indications
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Pascal Lamy’s speeches

This was a meeting of the “special session” of the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council, which is the forum for negotiating the multilateral register within the Doha Round. Ambassador Clarke had previously chaired the “regular” TRIPS Council, which oversees the implementation of the present TRIPS Agreement. He currently chairs the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Development and Intellectual Property Committee.

Once his election was confirmed, members turned to “other business”, which is where they discussed next steps in the talks. Here, they also debated the proposed link between the multilateral register negotiations, the “extension” of higher-level protection for geographical indications to all products, and a “disclosure” proposal for patent applications involving genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge.

Despite their differences on the issues, WTO members agreed that they want to intensify their efforts on the multilateral register and the chairperson concluded that he will hold a range of consultations and other meetings for that purpose.

But Ambassador Clarke added that while he heard both sides of the argument on linking the subjects, he has to stick to his present mandate so long as there is no decision to change it — and that would have to be taken “elsewhere”.

  

The discussion

The negotiations handled by the TRIPS Council “special session” deal with:

  • The register: the negotiations on a multilateral register for geographical indications for wines and spirits (handled in special negotiating sessions of the TRIPS Council) > More

This is currently the only subject on the “special sessions’” agenda, accepted by consensus as a full negotiation in the Doha Round. The two other issues, which some members would like to link to the talks on the register and add to the “special session’s” work, are:

  • “Extension”: extending the higher level of protection currently given to wines and spirits to other geographical indications (discussed in consultations chaired by Deputy Director-General Rufus Yerxa on behalf of Director-General Pascal Lamy) > More

  • “Disclosure”: amending the TRIPS Agreement so that patent applicants are required to disclose the origin of genetic material or associated traditional knowledge used in their inventions and to show evidence of “prior informed consent” to use local genetic materials and that the benefits are to be shared (also in Mr Yerxa’s consultations) > More

Countries remained divided over the proposal to negotiate the three issues in parallel (“parallelism”).

Supporters of “parallelism”: These are the countries sponsoring document TN/C/W/52 and additions. For the multilateral register, the paper calls on members to negotiate a text that spells out the legal impact the sponsors would like to see, on the way countries protect geographical indications despite their diverse legal systems — for example, if a term is registered, then countries would consider that to be preliminary evidence (“prima facie”) that the term meets the definition of a geographical indication.

The paper also calls for the negotiations on the multilateral register to be formally expanded to cover “extension” and “disclosure” and negotiated at the same time as the “modalities” (formulas for cutting tariffs and subsidies and other provisions forming a blueprint of the final deal) in other subjects such as agriculture and non-agricultural market access.

The paper’s sponsors are: the African-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) group, the African Group, Albania, Brazil, China, Colombia, Croatia, Ecuador, the EU, Georgia, Iceland, India, Indonesia, the Kyrgyz Republic, Liechtenstein, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Pakistan, Peru, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Thailand and Turkey.

In this meeting, several of these countries argued that the dynamic has changed since the document was prepared, with 110 members out of 153 supporting it, and with the experience of three issues being part of a single consultation in July conducted by Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy (see, eg, this news item).

They described the document as a compromise struck after difficult bargaining among the supporters. The EU said it also represents some major concessions compared to the EU’s original proposal for the multilateral register. Supporters said the three subjects should be negotiated together in these “special sessions”, but when opponents reacted to this, the supporters of parallelism acknowledged that it was up to the members to change the mandate, not the chairperson.

The other side of the argument: Countries that support the “Joint Proposal” (TN/IP/W/10/Rev.2) prefer a voluntary system where notified geographical indications would be registered in a database. Those governments choosing to participate in the system would have to consult the database when taking decisions on protection in their own countries. Non-participating members would be “encouraged” but “not obliged” to consult the database.

Sponsors of the “Joint Proposal” are: Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Chinese Taipei, South Africa and the US.

In the meeting, this group said the negotiations on the multilateral register — which is the only one of the three issues that has a specific mandate for negotiations in the TRIPS Agreement and the Doha Declaration — still need more technical clarification.

They noted that the EU said it had modified its proposal, but details had not been submitted in writing. This is needed so that it can be examined technically, the group said.

And the group predicted that trying to negotiate the three subjects together would be disastrous for the negotiations as a whole. In their view, the July consultations exposed how wide apart members are on the issues, and revealed that some supporters of parallelism are unclear about what it means, for example whether the “extension” would mean also expanding the register beyond wines and spirits — one replied that TN/C/W/52 clearly states that it would (in paragraph 7).

Hong Kong, China, continued to advocate its own proposed compromise and said it hopes efforts to bring in the other two subjects will not delay the talks.
  

Next

Ambassador Clarke will consult members individually and in groups and will convene meetings of various kinds, including for sharing information on discussions among smaller groups. So far, no big meetings have been announced.


Chairperson: Amb. Trevor Clarke of Barbados
(elected at the start of this meeting because Amb. Manzoor Ahmad has moved to head the FAO Liaison Office in Geneva)

JARGON BUSTER

• geographical indications (GIs): Place names (or words associated with a place) used to identify products (for example, “Champagne”, “Tequila” or “Roquefort”) which have a particular quality, reputation or other characteristic because they come from that place.

modalities: The way or method of doing something — in the Doha Development Agenda negotiations these are blueprints for the final deal, eg, how to cut tariffs, and reduce agricultural subsidies and support, along with flexibilities to deal with various sensitivities. Once the modalities have been agreed, countries can apply the formulas to tariffs on thousands of products and to various support programmes.

• special sessions: meetings of WTO councils and committees focusing only on the Doha Development Agenda negotiations

TRIPS: Trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights

> More jargon: glossary
 

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