Global Trade Targets Indigenous Gene Lines

By Armstrong, Jeannette C. | National Catholic Reporter, January 27, 1995 | Go to article overview

Global Trade Targets Indigenous Gene Lines


Armstrong, Jeannette C., National Catholic Reporter


The rights of colonized indigenous peoples have been coldly ignored in world trade agreements and nation-state political forums designed by those who hold power in the world's economic organizations.

Developed countries have grown more and more aware of the impact of corporate trade on the living standards and privileges of the middle class. But there is little awareness about the new forms of oppression of indigenous peoples inherent in globalization strategies. This oppression, however, will have deep implications for everyone.

The increase in trade of new technologies is one of the aspects that has motivated global economic restructuring. Biogenetically engineered products for agricultural, pharmaceutical, medical and other commercial applications are the new world order "gold mines," and they are the new reasons why transnational corporations want access to lands and natural resources - and even to human genes. Systematic control of these gold mines is achieved through the drafting of extensive international agreements and covenants that facilitate and protect the trade of information, data and research. These agreements commonly exploit people and resources. Their proponents push the banner of progress blindly, with no compassion for the human suffering that results from these strategies.

In this context, indigenous peoples are said to stand in the way of the new world order because they strive to protect their lifestyles, their lands and their very lives. Indigenous peoples' autonomy over their land, lives and resources is threatened when multinational corporations seek to push cash crops of hybridized, patented seeds and animals. These large-scale production operations systematically replace goods produced by indigenous people and local economies. When this happens, not only is the land stripped of the plant and animal life forms, the very biodiversity that sustains our world, but indigenous populations, in the same way, are annihilated. The trade agreements do not view the lives and rights of indigenous peoples as critical to the sustenance of the land and environment.

One of the reasons for this is that indigenous peoples do not have secured rights as internationally recognized peoples under U.N. conventions on political, social and economic rights. Instead, they are defined as "populations" of nation-states rather than "peoples or nations." This categorization allows those in control of the economic power structures to maintain control over indigenous land and resources.

Agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade further usurp the rights guaranteed to indigenous peoples in legal treaties and infringe on legislation that protects indigenous peoples from the nation-states themselves. For example, the governments of nation-states, under global trade, are scurrying to draft legislation to move communally held lands into privately held titles. This allows private corporations to purchase, under the rubric of free trade, the control of indigenous lands - and the biological and ecological store that thrives in many of these rich, biodiverse environments.

Part of this control by multinational corporations involves the patenting of "life forms" for pharmaceutical and other purposes. Corporations, to justify their patent registers, claim they discover knowledge or data that is actually being appropriated from indigenous peoples. Under global trade provisions, corporations are increasingly able to impose legislation that protects their discoveries - these safeguards are called intellectual-property rights.

In the rush to turn life forms into global commodities, there is regard for the communally held knowledge, the religious rights or the human rights of indigenous peoples. The demands and suggestions of indigenous peoples are excluded from these documents.

In this panorama, it is not knowledge about plants and animals hat is being made a commodity: The essential substance of the human life form - human gene lines - are now items for transnational trade and profit. …

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