Norway withdraws from EFTA negotiations on IPR
Ny Tid, Maren Næss | March 20, 2009
State secretary Ms. Rikke Lind in the Norwegian Ministry of Trade and Commerce confirms that Norway has withdrawn from the negotiations on intellectual Property Rights (IPR), which are part of the trade agreement that is under negotiation between European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and India. EFTA member countries are Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Lichtenstein. “We have chosen to withdraw from the negotiations. We have a different policy on this topic, compared to the other EFTA countries. It was not a major issue in recent negotiations, but in the agreement with India it has turned out to be a serious problem” says Ms. Rikke Lind to Ny Tid.
That Norway has now chosen to leave the negotiations on IPR in EFTA is a signal that the EFTA coalition is haunted by internal disagreement. André Nerheim, head of the Europe-section of the LO (Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions, Norway’s largest trade union), thinks it is alarming that Norway has withdrawn. “This is both troubling and good at the same time. LO would like to see a well functioning EFTA to keep the European Economic Area (EEA) collaboration healthy. Switzerland is not in the EEA and the reason for their being a part of EFTA is to forge free trade agreements. This detachment of Norway on IPR has fundamentally changed equations within EFTA. “At the same time it is very good that Norway places demands on their partners in the negotiations, and in this case Norway rightly puts the foot down,” he says.
Camilla Houeland, advisor on Africa in the International section of the LO, appears delighted. “These are very good and strong signals from the government. It is an important move which might isolate Switzerland in the IPR matters. These will both weaken Switzerland’s negotiation position and be a political victory for the developing countries” she says. “Half of all aids medications used in developing countries today and 80% of the medicines used by Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) are produced in India. If Switzerland succeeds in changing the patent system, this will no doubt affect, amongst many others, African workers” says Houeland.
Lind says the government has communicated clearly that they would not take part in any demands requiring stronger patent protection than what already exists in the World Trade Organisation Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement. "Norwegian policy is that developing countries should not be forced to accept agreements, which reduce their policy space beyond TRIPS when it concerns these types of immaterial rights," Lind says.
She emphasizes that Norway’s decision on the section on IPR’s will only be taken after the trade agreement has been negotiated. "If the outcome of the negotiations is disagreeable to Norway, then, this will be a bilateral agreement between India and the other EFTA-countries, outside of the EFTA-collaboration," says Lind. "I would still like to underline that we have a good collaboration in EFTA, even if in some areas we have diverging opinions. We need EFTA. Norway is extremely dependent on trade agreements as long as we don’t have a well functioning WTO regime," says Lind.
Translated from Norwegian by Ane Schjolden: Norge trekker seg fra EFTA-forhandlinger