Date: Fri, 30 Jul 1999 22:13:15 -0500 (CDT)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: TRADE-KENYA: A New Bill To Enhance WTO Agreement Under Fire
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A New Bill To Enhance WTO Agreement Under Fire
By Judith Achieng', IPS, 29 July 1999
NAIROBI, Jul 29 (IPS) - Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Kenya are seeking ways to counter a new bill seeking to conform to the requirements of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), barely days after it was introduced to parliament.
The Industrial Property Bill, which has been read once in parliament is expected to become law after its third reading, to replace Kenya's old Industrial Property Act.
Rights groups say if passed into law in its present form, the bill will pose great danger to the East African country's agricultural sector, by rendering its food production system in the hands of multi-national corporations.
The NGOs, in a memorandum they presented to parliament, say farmers will relinquish their ownership of seed and control of food production to foreign corporations, with adverse effect on the livelihood of farmers and pastoralists who produce 70 percent of the total food production in Kenya.
"The problem with this policy approach is that the salient provisions of the bill do not reflect domestic concerns," notes Otieno Odek, a human rights lawyer in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
"Unless the issues at stake are understood at the national level, input at the global level will be insignificant and the legal framework created will be a superstructure with no relevance at the grassroots level," he says.
The Industrial Property Bill (IPB) is an attempt by the Kenyan government to domesticate the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), an agreement of the WTO, of which Kenya is a signatory.
Under TRIPS, patentable innovations will include biologically modified plants and animals, software, medicines, music and even clothing designs.
However, TRIPS does not recognise the collective traditional knowledge of indigenous communities and does not guarantee access rights of communities to their natural resources.
An invention, according to TRIPS is defined as one which is new, workable and with industrial application, knocking out all existing traditional knowledge.
Enraged rights groups say IPB would, if passed into law, strip farmers and local innovators of their right to technologies and knowledge passed down to them through generations.
The groups also fear that IPB may encourage bio-piracy of genetic material from poor countries by powerful multinational corporations, in contradiction with Kenya's other international obligations under an earlier Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which recognised the very property rights which WTO seeks to violate.
Vandana Shiva, director of Indian-based Research Foundation for Sciences, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) who was recently in Kenya, said domesticating TRIPS is tantamount to "giving multinational corporations licence to plunder genetic wealth of poor countries".
"These trade agreements are anti-life, anti-democracy, anti- nature and should be fought," she told a seminar on the Industrial Property Bill in Nairobi.
Shiva, the author of "The Violence Of The Green Revolution", says the proponents of TRIPS have taken advantage of ignorance of many people to push the agreement into national legislation around the world. "If people knew that seeds and genes have been patented, there would be an uproar," she says.
"What globalisation has done is take away the power of central governments and put it in the hands of global corporations," she told IPS. "This is worse because governments take away your freedom, but not your bread. Corporations take away your freedom and also your bread."
The NGO memorandum submitted to the parliamentary draft committee reviewing the IPB, calls for the removal of natural genetic resources from the term "invention" for which patents can be applied, in the bill.
"The bill has adopted a very expansive definition of the meaning of 'invention' yet there is no such obligation imposed on Kenya - neither is it in Kenya's interest to give such an extensive definition, which will open up the scope of losing control over Kenya's natural resources to private interests," says the paper.
The NGOs have also prepared a common position for the coming Third WTO ministerial conference to be held in November in Seattle, USA, calling for a fairer deal for poor countries.
Lawrence Makumba, a senior official at the Kenyan ministry of Trade told a recent workshop in Nairobi that developing countries were not invited to most informal consultations where most decisions in WTO were made during the first and second ministerial conferences held in Singapore and Geneva in 1996 and 1998.
"The entire process of negotiations on the outstanding areas which had not garnered consensus were shrouded in secrecy," he said.
Founded in 1995, after a decision made by its member states at Marakesh, Morocco, in 1994, to replace the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) which had been in place since 1947, WTO currently remains the most powerful multilateral trade organisation.
With 134 member states, 100 of which are developing countries, the body has expanded trade from goods only, to include services, intellectual property rights and foreign direct investment.
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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