May 1, 2009

Politics of protectionism

There is a growing perception in the developing world that the TRIPS Agreement is only aimed at facilitating the developed world
By Sibtain Raza Khan
With the global economic integration, politics of intellectual protectionism has widened the gulf between the developing South and the developed North, particularly on the issue of intellectual property rights (IPRs). This subject matter has created mistrust as well as disparity between the developing and the developed world, because the former feels that it is at the receiving end. Without due consideration to the level of development of the South, it is being forced to follow policy initiatives of the North, which requires IPRs to be regulated internationally for its own economic growth.
Being a signatory to the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), Agreement under the World Trade Organisation (WTO), countries have to establish organisational infrastructure for protection of IPRs, which can be categorised in two groups: industrial property rights and copyrights. The former comprise patents, trademarks, industrial designs and geographic indication of source; while the latter consist of literary and artistic works, such as novels, poems, plays, films, musical works, paintings, photographs, architecture designs, etc.
There is a growing perception in the developing world that the TRIPS Agreement under the WTO regime is only aimed at facilitating countries of the developed world, especially its pharmaceutical and entertainment industries. Developed countries took these steps to maintain their monopoly on these industries. Nobel Laureate in Economics Joseph E Stiglitz argues that "it was clear that there was more interest in pleasing the pharmaceutical and entertainment industries (of developed North) than in ensuring an intellectual property regime that was good for science."
As a matter of fact, developed countries vigorously backed the agreement on IPRs, while developing countries did not demand for the same, during the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1994. Now, assent to the TRIPS Agreement has become condition to the WTO's membership. Unfortunately, this agreement, which has given more powers to multinationals than developing countries, was imposed on the developing South without considering its genuine concerns, such as the level of development.
Like other developing countries, the incentive of opening of markets of developed countries for its products forced Pakistan to accept the WTO regime. However, Pakistani products failed to attract buyers in the developed world, mainly due to their protectionist measures, such as anti-dumping duties and quality controls. On the other hand, because of being a signatory to the TRIPS Agreement, different sectors of Pakistan's economy, especially the pharmaceutical and agrochemical sectors, are suffering.
Tahira A Sulhari, a social activist, is of the view that a multilateral platform is being used by multinational companies (MNCs) for their vested interests. Dr Safdar A Khan, an economist who is associated with a reputed private educational institution in Islamabad, points out that Pakistan -- being a developing country -- is giving more and getting less as a result of the TRIPs Agreement. "We even had to erect a huge set up in the form of the Intellectual Property Organisation of Pakistan (IPO-Pakistan), which is nothing but an additional burden on our ailing economy," he says.
Prof Pervaiz Bajwa claims that fast progress in science and technology has been suffering due to IPR-related issues, and the developing world is the biggest loser. He argues that criteria for developing countries should be different from that for developed countries. "The rationale behind the TRIPS Agreement is to maintain the monopoly of developed countries in the field of science and technology. This would further increase the disparity between the North and the South," says Dr GH Chohan, an economist.
Munir Ahmed, director of the IPO-Pakistan, tells The News on Sunday that "though signing the TRIPS Agreement is a pre-condition for becoming a member of the WTO, there are waivers and exemptions for developing countries." When asked about implications of the TRIPS Agreement on Pakistan's economy, he said though the pharmaceutical sector may suffer because of it, paragraphs 4 to 6 of the Doha Declaration provide for safety nets in the area of public health in emergency periods.
Undoubtedly, the struggling economies of developing countries are still facing the adverse effects of the TRIPS Agreement, along with other problems such as technological backwardness, unskilled human resource and weak infrastructure. For instance, the TRIPS Agreement protects the interests of Western pharmaceutical giants. Under the agreement, patent right-holding Western pharmaceutical companies are maximising their profits by selling their drugs at higher prices despite lower cost of production. On the other hand, pharmaceutical companies in developing countries are not authorised to produce the same drugs at lower prices. If a country violates pharmaceutical patents by manufacturing generic copies of these medicines, it may be penalised through economic sanctions.
Khalid Mehmood, chairperson of the Pakistan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (PPMA) Committee on the WTO, alleges that MNCs are forcing WTO officials to increase the period of patent rights from 20 to 40 years under the TRIPS Agreement, which is unjust and unfair because people of the developing world would be the main victims. He maintains that Pakistan also needs to protest against the enforcement of patent linkage and data exclusivity or data protection, which is required by MNCs, because these demands of Western companies are not in the interests of the developing world.
Nevertheless, the manifest objective of IPRs is to protect the industrial property, as well as copyrights, of artists, writers and publishers. However, its latent purpose is to safeguard the interests of MNCs of developed countries. It is rightly argued that IPRs should not be included in a trade agreement, because they encompass different public policy issues and consequently create confusion that is exploited by Western economic giants for their vested interests.
Indeed, the IPR regime is a right step; however, both developing and developed countries have differences on this issue because of their incompatible frame of references, needs and requirements. Like every year, April 26 (today) is being celebrated as the World Intellectual Property Day with the theme of 'Green Innovation'. However, for equitable progress and prosperity in the world, there is a need to celebrate this day in a way that persuades developed countries to give due consideration to the reservations of developing countries.

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