Responding to Change
Heike Baumüller and Geoff Tansey
Most changes have unintended consequences, and changing global rules on intellectual property
(IP) are no exception. Those promoting greater IP protection face growing resistance as civil
society groups learn about its implications and campaign for changes. Many civil society
responses so far have focused on the effects on farming and biodiversity rather than the processing
and distribution side of the food system. They have raised concerns that these changes facilitate
corporate control over the world's seed supply and agrifood production at the expense of small
holder farmers and that they favour commercial interests over the public interest in food security
and sustainable livelihoods. Other concerns focus on the impact on research and development
(R&D) on avoiding restrictions on access to scientific knowledge and IP protected materials,
and on alternative approaches to R&D to benefit poor people farming more marginal lands.
The growing mix of global rules affecting food and agriculture has made life more complicated for governments, researchers, industry and civil society groups. The various international agreements, treaties, conventions and protocols discussed in Part II of this book are not the end point – they are part of a process of framing and reframing rules to address changing concerns, and inevitably they suit certain interests. Once the agreements are reached and treaties signed, negotiations do not stop. Further pressures arise in interpreting and implementing what was agreed or to amend rules if they do not produce desired outcomes.
The increasing complexity of rule-making and the growing web of agreements requiring follow-up is a problem in itself for civil society and governments. For many poorer countries and groups – from farmers' and peasants' organizations, to small and medium-sized enterprises, to officials and negotiators – the capacity to deal with the global negotiations and rules, or influence them so that they reflect their interests, is very limited. For many, the application of new global rules to their area of activity came as a surprise; this was particularly the case with those on IP – even some governments signing up to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1994 were unaware of the far-reaching implications of the TradeRelated Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) regime.