Below is the introduction of an article written with Hannah Brennan and published April 10 by the Harvard Human Rights Journal. The full article is here.
On October 16, 2014, a new draft of the intellectual property chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was leaked. The TPP is a free trade agreement currently being negotiated in secret between the governments of Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States, and Vietnam. The intellectual property chapter released in October contains a plant-related intellectual property provision proposed by the United States and Japan that could pose a serious threat to food security within the lower-income parties to the TPP.
Intellectual property rights (IPRs) on plants endow plant breeders and seed manufacturers with varying degrees of control over the propagating materials (seeds, tissue cultures, cuttings) and sometimes harvested materials (fruits, foliage, flowers) of any new plant variety they create.
The newly released chapter reveals that the TPP will require signatories to make patents on plants or plant-related inventions available as well as accede to the 1991 version of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (1991 UPOV). Currently, most nations, including the majority of parties negotiating the TPP, set their own plant protection policies without interference from international authorities. Most nations have not acceded to the 1991 UPOV, and only a handful offer patents on plants or plant-related inventions. If implemented, the new provisions of the TPP would force many of the negotiating parties—in particular, the less wealthy states—to dramatically alter their domestic laws. For example, the new TPP language will prohibit farmers from saving and exchanging many varieties of seeds—a practice vital to the livelihood and welfare of traditional farming communities—and most likely increase multinational control of the farming industry in TPP nations. This short piece examines the TPP’s new plant-related language and its implications for the human right to food within TPP signatory nations.