EU in danger of breaking its promise to the poor

From Mr Carlos Correa and others.

Sir, The relationship between Europe and its former colonies in among the African, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) countries has always involved a promise: that Europe would be an ally in their struggle against poverty and efforts to develop. That promise is in danger of being broken.

In its economic partnership agreement (EPA) negotiations with the ACP, the European Union seems to have forgotten the development dimension and pursues an agenda that reflects primarily the interest of the EU alone. This pattern is painfully evident in the EU’s pursuit of new and higher standards for intellectual property and other trade-related areas. The EU is asking ACP countries, most of whom which are least-developed countries, to:

• Make it more difficult for their students and academics to access and afford educational materials on the internet, for example by enforcing digital locks on information that should be publicly accessible;

• Impede their researchers and technicians from as they seek to accessing information and tools needed for their work, and limit the means available for poor countries to achieve their own technological development;

• Restrict the full and traditional right of their farmers to save, re-use, exchange and sell the seeds produced from their harvests, making them dependent on global multinationals for their food security and threatening agricultural biodiversity.

The EU argues that the economic partnership agreements are necessary to comply with World Trade Organisation rules. While there is some dispute about the necessity of this with respect to goods, it is unequivocally clear that there is no WTO-related requirement to negotiate intellectual property.

All available evidence indicates that increased levels of greater intellectual property protection will generate more costs than benefits to for ACP countries. Indeed, European countries only gradually expanded that protection as they reached higher levels of development. This possibility will be denied to ACP countries.

If the EU really wants to keep its promise to reduce poverty and promote sustainable development, it should refrain from asking its poorer trade partners to adopt intellectual property standards that may retard rather than foster their social and economic improvement.

• Frederick M. Abbott, Edward Ball Eminent Scholar, Professor of International Law, Florida State University College of Law

• Carlos Correa, Director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies on Industrial Property and Economics Law, University of Buenos Aires; Member of the UK-Commission on Intellectual Property Rights

• Graham Dutfield, Co-Director, Centre for International Governance, University of Leeds

• Sue Edwards, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Development, Ethiopia

• Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, Winner of the Right Livelihood Award 2000 and Champion of the Earth 2006, Ethiopia

• Gerry Helleiner, Professor Emeritus, Department of Economics, and Distinguished Research Fellow, Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto

• Eddan Katz, Executive Director, Information Society Project; Lecturer, Yale Law School

• Sisule Musungu, University of Bern, Switzerland

• Jerome H. Reichman, Bunyan S. Womble Professor of Law, Duke University School of Law

• Joshua D. Sarnoff, Assistant Director, Glushko-Samuelson Intellectual Property Law Clinic, Washington College of Law, American University

• Sir John Sulston, Nobel Prize Laureate and Vice-Chair of the UK Human Genetics Commission

• Geoff Tansey, Joseph Rowntree Visionary for a Just and Peaceful World, UK

• Jacques Testart, Research Director of the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM), France

• Diana Tussie, Director of the Research Programme on International Economic Institutions and of the Latin American Trade Network, Senior Research Fellow at National Council for Technical and Scientific Research (CONICET), Argentina

• David Vaver, Director, Oxford Intellectual Property Research Centre, St Peter’s College, Oxford

• Ernst von Weizsäcker, Professor and former Chairman of the Bundestag Environment Committee, Germany

• Ngaire Woods, Director of the Global Economic Governance Programme, University College, University of Oxford

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