From The Western Producer April 20 2010
By Terry Boehm, National Farmers Union
Canada and the European Union are negotiating a new free trade agreement, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).
This agreement with the EU is no small matter for farmers. The CETA, if implemented, will, as much as the North American Free Trade Agreement or the World Trade Organization, transform Canadian agriculture and farms. And not for the better. The CETA will further intensify Canada’s farm income crisis.
The CETA would mean many changes, but none would be more negative or sweeping than its effect to extinguish farmers’ rights to save and use seeds.
Worse, the agreement would give enforcement powers to any corporation that asserted a farmer had infringed the company’s intellectual property rights.
The CETA would require Canada to implement the UPOV ’91 version of plant breeders’ rights (PBR). That version of the International Convention for the Protection of New Plant Varieties would virtually eliminate farmers’ rights to save, reuse and sell seed.
How would UPOV ’91 do this? One way is to give plant breeders’ rights holders control over who can “condition” seed and who could stock the seed. UPOV ’91 would also give the holder the power to collect royalties at any point in the food chain—so-called cascade rights.
These rights mean that if seed companies neglect to collect royalties from farmers, companies can collect those royalties downstream, from grain companies or processors. Such provisions will create a chill among grain handlers and processors, leading to pressure on farmers to use more purchased seed.
Today, Canada’s PBR legislation is based on UPOV ’78. That standard is adequate for full compliance with all international obligations, including the WTO’s Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights agreement.
There is no reason Canada needs to implement UPOV ’91.Its inclusion in the CETA is unnecessary and harmful to farmers. It is one poison pill among many in the CETA.
Further, the CETA goes beyond the draconian powers of UPOV ’91 and includes additional intellectual property protections that will give seed companies the power to seize crops, farms and seeding and harvest equipment, and freeze bank accounts if companies suspect infringement by a farmer.
CETA’s IPR chapter states: “In the case of infringement committed on a commercial scale . . . the judicial authorities may order the precautionary seizure of the movable and immovable property of the alleged infringer, including blocking his/her bank accounts and other assets.”
Article 23 goes on to state that an infringer may be required to publicize the decision, including prominent advertising of the decision at the infringer’s expense.
Thus biotech, pharmaceutical, pesticide, seed and grain companies will gain powerful tools to force farmers to buy seed at high prices on company terms, because even being accused of infringement could destroy a farmer. With powers such as those, seed companies will gain power over who farms and how.
With regard to farm support programs, the CETA states: “The parties agree to co-operate in WTO agriculture negotiations in order to achieve a substantial reduction of production and trade distorting domestic support.”
This means Canadian farm support programs will be cut. Further, programs such as supply management, which allow dairy, poultry and egg producers to earn a decent living, will come under sustained attack.
There is also a proposal to add a CETA chapter on state trading enterprises, which will undoubtedly take aim at the Canadian Wheat Board.
The costs are high but what of the benefits?
Canadian farmers who produce genetically modified crops are going to be severely disappointed if they think European markets will open for their crops as a result of the CETA, because the agreement says all European GM regulations are exempted from its provisions.
Cattle producers have nothing to gain. The WTO has ruled Europe’s ban on Canadian beef illegal but the EU accepted the ruling and chose to pay the fine rather than accept our meat. As a market access agreement, the CETA fails miserably.
The CETA’s intent and effect is to erode food safety, end supports to farmers and make sure intellectual property rights holders have powerful tools to control our food system via control of seeds and other technologies.
The wealth that companies will be able to extract from farmers and other citizens is enormous.
The agreement represents a massive transfer of power and wealth, and thus it must not be allowed. There is no reason we should sign it and ample reason we should reject it.
Terry Boehm, President of the National Farmers Union