US-Thailand: Talks could slow over plant and drug issues

Bangkok Post, 18 February 2006

TRADE / THAILAND-US AGREEMENT

Talks could slow over plant and drug issues

WORANUJ MANEERUNGSEE

Differences over patent protection of drugs and plants could prolong the Thai-US free trade agreement (FTA) process, an adviser to the Fiscal Policy Research Institute Foundation said yesterday. Narongchai Akrasanee, a former commerce minister, said his concerns were shared by the Thai trade negotiating team.

Two critical issues are patent protection for pharmaceuticals and intellectual property rights related to biodiversity, he said at a seminar on freeing up the services sector under the bilateral trade talks between Thailand and the US.

He said that differences over pharmaceuticals could be overcome, but that the countries were far from reaching a common understanding on biodiversity issues.

Washington has invited Bangkok to become a signatory to the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, or Upov 1991. It has already persuaded other FTA partners including Chile and Singapore to become signatories.

’’The Agricultural Ministry seriously opposes the US request. Also, NGOs (non-government organisations) are against it,’’ Dr Narongchai said.

Upov 1991 extends the period for protection of new breeds to 20 years from the 15 years stipulated by the Upov 1978 pact. As well, farmers will have to pay royalty fees whenever they plant new breeds as the law gives exclusive rights to the seed developers.

Thailand is a member of the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). It gives communities and individuals a certain amount of ownership rights to indigenous plant species that are later exploited for commercial purposes.

’’The different point of view comes from a different philosophy. Thailand is a tropical country that is wealthy in plants and animal varieties, while the US is different. The US is interested in breeding new plants from existing plants in other countries,’’ he said.

He was optimistic that both parties would soon come to an agreement over pharmaceuticals. The US proposes that the patent protection period for pharmaceuticals start from the date of approval by the Food and Drug Administration, but Thailand wants it to coincide with formal registration.

The Thai-US FTA talks began in 2004 and are scheduled to conclude this year.

source: Bangkok Post