Trade Deals like the TPP Further Criminalize Farmer Seed Saving, Legalize Corporate Theft

By Johanna Lundahl, AGRA Watch Intern

0-COVER_Ghana seed saving Photo by Global Justice Now.jpg
photo credit: Global Justice Now

Grain, an international non-profit focused on supporting small farmers, and community controlled food systems, provided an update on the free trade agreements that affect farmer’s rights to save and plant seeds of their choosing, in a piece called New Trade Deals Legalize Corporate Theft, Make farmer’s Seeds Illegal. The article is the latest in a series of opinion pieces called Against the Grain, published by the non-profit.

The article points out that these trade deals, negotiated on entirely in secret and outside of the World Trade Organization (WTO), have gone far beyond the existing international standards for patenting forms of life. The 1994 WTO agreement for trade related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPs) was the first international agreement on the owning of organisms. Through TRIPs, representatives of Dow, Syngenta, and Monsanto ensured that their companies could make a profit off of the seeds they had spent the money to engineer. By preventing farmers from re-using seeds, farmers were forced to buy new seeds every year from the same companies, making their seeds and livestock more expensive, and transforming life into a commodity that corporations can own and control.

Although industry representatives say they got 95 percent of what they wanted out of TRIPS, they still didn’t see patent protections as going far enough. Since then, trade deals negotiated outside of the WTO have allowed US and European corporations to obtain patent protections far beyond what they received from TRIPs, causing great injustices for smallholder farmers. As plant breeding on varieties of “protected” seeds are now illegal, farmers are forbidden from using the traditional breeding methods, and seed sharing that created the varieties corporations began tinkering on in the first place.

Grain currently sees the Trans Pacific Partnership(TTP), and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership(RCEP) as the two biggest threats to small- scale farmers’ control over their seeds. For one, the TTP requires all signatories to sign onto UPOV, further reducing farmer’s ability to save seeds. It also includes the surely intentionally vague phrase that requires countries to allow patents on inventions “derived from plants”. Grain asserts that under the TPP, “plant genes and cell cultures, and all products derived from them including plants, shall be patentable in all TPP countries.”

The RCEP, another mega-trade deal in the works between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and several large trading partners, will affect a larger number of people than the TPP. It also includes several nations which are expected to sign both deals, so a high possibility exists that the two deals will carry similar language on seed patenting issues. AGRA Watch agrees with Grain that if the TPP and the RCEP are ratified, it will tighten corporate control over the seed and food supply, negatively affecting biodiversity of seeds, and farmer’s sovereignty over their own crops.
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