The Trans-Pacific Agreement or how to privatize seeds and promote bio-piracy

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By: Lucía Sepúlveda R / Source: / The Dawn / December 22, 2014.- We are suddenly at the gates of a direct government by transnationals! Corporations such as Monsanto, pharmaceuticals, car industries and others, together with an elite of negotiators of the entrepreneurial/State sector of 12 countries, have secretly developed a law for all its inhabitants.The result was named “Trans-Pacific Agreement” (TPP), and President Bachelet will sign it in February —when Chile is in summer judicial recess— and after that it will be sent to the Parliament. Beginning in March, senators and deputies will have to vote yes or no. Until yesterday, the contents of the agreement, the 30 chapters, annexes, etcetera, were still secret, because only by the end of October some contents were made public and neither the text nor its translations are definitory. Starting in March, they will be able to demonstrate, or not, whether they are true representatives of the citizens that voted for them, or if they are national minions of the transnationals and their Chilean partners. People are watching.


Treaty’s negative impacts, presented as the most important commercial agreement signed to this date, are many, and cover every imaginable area, with little actual references to commerce. Here, we will only analyze what will happen with the seeds of farmers and indigenous peoples (who are brutally repressed in Chile), and with biodiversity, if the treaty is signed.


The “Monsanto Law” is exhumed


Until year 2013, the negotiator for agricultural issues of the U.S. treaty was Islam Siddiqui, former lobbyist of Monsanto. He retired after ensuring that interests of multinational manufacturer of hybrids, transgenics and herbicides were included in the redaction of the law. In Chapter 18  —Intellectual Property—, paragraph 1.2., letter d) forces Chile to ratify the UPOV 91 Agreement (intellectual property of seeds). This means repealing the current legislation on seeds and approving the project of the Spanish translation of the UPOV 91 agreement, which is called “Ley de Obtentores” (Plant Breeders’ Rights).


Thanks to the pressure exerted by people, President Bachelet, at the beginning of her term, had suspended the process of approval by the Senate of the “Monsanto Law” because of its implications for food sovereignty and biodiversity. Therefore, the UPOV 91 Agreement approved in 2011 by the Senate could not be enacted. To resuscitate the Monsanto Law through the TPP is to prevent the exercise of the ancestral right to free trade of seeds, and extending the seed registry to all existing vegetal varieties, further increasing the cost of production for farmers, and opening the space for the expansion of transgenic plantations and for the pollutive forest industry. Without peasant familiar agriculture, which currently supplies free fairs and other places that sell fruit and vegetables, consumers will depend exclusively on supermarkets, which are more expensive. Besides, the agro-industry is oriented to exports and will leave in the country only the product not apt for exportation; and the “short consumer-producer chains” that constitute new and healthy alternatives, will die because of the lack of rural producers.


Legal Biopiracy


In the same Chapter 18, paragraph 16.d, on “cooperation”, the TPP encourages the training of experts in the registry of patents for (ancestral) indigenous knowledge on plants. Obviously, this indicates that these so-called experts will patent ancestral knowledge, a procedure widely rejected by indigenous organizations in Chile and whose genetic patrimony and ancestral knowledge have been already subject to biopiracy for a long time. This agreement keeps encouraging biopiracy and says nothing about the new international protocols on this topic.

New Zealand negotiated exceptions in favour of its indigenous people, based on the Waitangi Treaty. But Chile won’t even make an Indigenous Consultation, the Chancellery has said, ignoring the dispositions of the same UPOV 91 Agreement.


Previous treaties with the U.S. and the EU put pressure on Chile to ratify the UPOV 91. The difference is that now, if the State doesn’t do it, any of the investing companies of the 11 countries member of the treaty can take Chile to international courts (CIADI), where a great majority of the —un-appealable— sentences are against developing countries, and have extremely high costs.


Tutelage over laws


The dispositions of the TPP affect national sovereignty, because its entangled dispositions generate a legal straightjacket that prevents the government from issuing new norms that companies don’t approve of. Chapter 2 on National Treatment and Access to Goods, in its paragraph 27.10, creates a Work Group on Biotechnology that will analyze “laws, rules and national policies, existing and proposed”. Any regulation that intends to protect our health and environment, for example through taxes on transgenics or labeling of transgenic products, or public policies that buy organic food for school buffets and hospitals can be considered “obstacles to commerce” and would be “frozen”. Because Chapter 15 on Public Sector Buys and Chapter 8 on Technical Obstacles to Commerce say so. These norms could be seen as actions against “reasonable expectations of profit” of agro-industrial investors, which would be determined only by the company. The State will not risk possible lawsuits because Chapter 28 on the Resolution of Controversies says that it has to go through international courts whose ruling is un-appealable and favors companies, and Chapter 8 on Investments regulates this topic. The treaty operates as a padlock against norms that protect our health and biodiversity.


Pollution without punishment


Paragraph 29 of Chapter 2 is careful in ensuring the unlimited export of transgenics without penalizing pollution, applying norms that are weaker than those in the Cartagena Protocol on Biodiversity or the Food Codex. Ignoring the claims of environmentalists, Chile, like the U.S., has been refusing for decades to ratify this Protocol that regulates the export of transgenics. The U.S., Canada, Chile and Australia, who don’t sign the Cartagena Protocol, imposed their will to apply norms much looser than the international standards against pollution of shipments with low level of transgenics, and not quantifying the permitted level of contamination.
In the last years, the exports of conventional corn of LimaGrain have been affected by pollution from transgenics and  were rejected and returned to Chile from Germany more than 10 times. The lack of control of pollution by transgenics will be a growing threat for the export of food to countries with zero tolerance to transgenics (such as Germany or Russia) or with zero tolerance to non-approved ones (such as France, Malaysia or China), because, if they adopt protective measures such as the rejection of these products, they could also be sued by transnationals.

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