Guatemala Resists 'Monsanto Law' Required As Part Of Trade Agreement With US

from the saving-seed-sovereignty dept

One of the less well-known projects of the West is to convince developing countries that they need to convert traditional approaches to agriculture, which have functioned well for hundreds of years, into a system of intellectual monopolies for seeds — the implicit and patronizing message being that this is the “modern” way to do things. Last year we wrote about how this was happening in Africa, and an article on bilaterals.org reports on similar moves in Guatemala:

On 10 June, the Congress of Guatemala approved Decree 19-2014 or the “Law for the Protection of New Plant Varieties” which led to an outpouring of criticism from various sectors of civil society.

This law, published on 26 June, protects the intellectual property of plant breeders deemed to have “created” or “discovered” new plant varieties, or genetically modified existing ones.

This way, the beneficiaries of the law — “breeders”, which are typically companies producing transgenic seeds like the transnational corporation Monsanto — obtain property rights over the use of such varieties, in the form of plants or seeds.

Here’s how that is likely to impact Guatemalan farmers:

In a publication, the Rural Studies Collective (Cer-Ixim) warned about the consequences of this “Monsanto Law”.

They explained that under this law the possession or exchange of seeds of protected varieties without the breeder’s authorisation will be illegal and punishable by imprisonment.

It will also be illegal, and punishable by prison, to posses the harvest from such seeds or to save them for future plantings.

According to the law, the breeder’s right extends to “varieties essentially derived from the protected variety.” In this sense, a hybrid produced from a protected variety crossed with an unprotected variety would automatically belong to the breeder of the patented variety.

The law thus promotes privatisation and monopolies over seeds, endangering food sovereignty, especially that of indigenous peoples, said Cer-Ixim. It also warned that Guatemala’s biodiversity will fall “under the control of domestic and foreign companies.”

The new law was brought in as part of the process of complying with the 2005 CAFTA-DR free trade agreement between Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and the US. Under its terms, signatories are obliged to sign up to the International Convention for the Protection of New Plant Varieties — exactly the same one that was being foisted on Africa last year. However, as bilaterals.org reports, despite that obligation, there is mounting resistance to handing over the country’s seed sovereignty in this way:

The growing opposition to the “Monsanto Law” comes from diverse sectors of civil society such as indigenous organisations, environmental groups, scientists, artists and members of Congress.

Artists and television celebrities have joined an online signature campaign to reject the law.

Their petition is addressed to the President, Otto Perez Molina, via the Avaaz website, and argues that the law is unconstitutional.

“This law violates articles of the Constitution relating to the Protection of Individuals, Cultural Identity, Natural Heritage, Right to Health, the principles of the Economic and Social Regime, in addition to the obligation of the state to protect consumers,” the petition states.

Just recently, the Constitutional Court, Guatemala’s highest legal body, provisionally suspended the entry into force of the law, giving 15 days for the various parties to to present their arguments. Despite the broad-based support for repealing or modifying the law, it is not clear what options the government has. After all, passing the law is a requirement of CAFTA-DR, and if Guatemala refuses to comply, we can expect the US to apply considerable pressure to encourage it to toe the line. Ultimately, the US can refuse to bring into force the agreement; given the presence of corporate sovereignty (pdf) and other onerous provisions in CAFTA-DR, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing for the people of Guatemala.

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Comments on “Guatemala Resists 'Monsanto Law' Required As Part Of Trade Agreement With US”

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34 Comments
Anonymous Howard (profile) says:

"Trade" agreements

These so called FTAs with the US sound less and less about “Trade” and “Agreement”, and more and more about “Corporate monopolies” and “Coercion”.

Just step back for a minute and look at the ridiculous insanity the US propagate:
– You can not use a fuckin’ seed as it is, because some greedy company decided that the sequence of chemicals in it is their property.
– They don’t provide any safeguards that it won’t spread, but claim that any crop it infects is their property.

According to the law, the breeder’s right extends to “varieties essentially derived from the protected variety.” In this sense, a hybrid produced from a protected variety crossed with an unprotected variety would automatically belong to the breeder of the patented variety.

It would be interesting to cross two “patented variety” and see the two “breeder” fight to death over the result.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "Trade" agreements

Free trade is synonym with getting legislation out of everything. In the context of intellectual property, the rights are being peddled as the best of market trades since it doesn’t necessitate government involvement and incentivize “creation” (of paperwork that is!).

It is a return towards aristocracy legitimisation (money makes right and with the current lenghts we are nearing vassallage given the specification of what is cosher by authorities!), takes extreme amounts of surveillance to ensure compliance of and doesn’t necessarily ensure positive priorities for society at large.

But as long as the government cannot “steal” private capital, it is all free trade and the legislation of the future.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "Trade" agreements

Brings to mind a bit of legal trolling, plant something potentially that would turn into a highly invasive rapidly growing pest if cross-bred with the product. Start suing them for damages done by the hybrid since it is their property now. If it worked that would be a hilarious way to get them begging to reintroduce first sale rights for plants.

Violynne (profile) says:

If the citizens of Guatemala knows what’s good for them, they’ll block this law and take whatever “punishments” the US gives them because they’ll still be better off in the long run.

Farmers in the US can’t stand Monsanto because it’s rather conspicuous how their genetic seeds tend to end up in the fields of farms who don’t buy their seeds and these farmers wind up in court.

Anonymous Coward says:

when are other nations going to realise that every one of these ‘Trade Agreements’ are induced by the USA and will benefit no one other than the USA and it’s companies? it’s about time the USA was told, in no uncertain terms, to fuck off! these other nations would do much better if they had agreements between themselves. at least they could help each other if things went crap shaped!

art guerrilla (profile) says:

not just the GMO, etc angle...

…it is that it -essentially- favors Big Agri over family farms such that they are disappeared…
when we ‘help’ other countries with their agriculture, etc, almost always that means we are IMPOSING a huge, COSTLY system of farming which locks you into Big Agri’s system from beginning to end: you are dependent upon them for EVERYTHING, and the banks, etc WILL FORCE you to adhere to their regimen, or you don’t get shit…
FURTHER, it is all to grow ‘commercial’ crops which WE fat westerners might ‘need’, but it doesn’t grow ANYTHING for the locals to eat: they go from raising most of their own food, to raising NOTHING they can eat, but ONLY whatever Big Agri wants them to grow…

Michael (profile) says:

Just recently, the Constitutional Court, Guatemala’s highest legal body, provisionally suspended the entry into force of the law, giving 15 days for the various parties to to present their arguments.

The have a body of government that actually stops bad laws from being put into place before they are debated? I would say the US should do that, but copying ideas is wrong.

Anonymous Coward says:

“a hybrid produced from a protected variety crossed with an unprotected variety would automatically belong to the breeder of the patented variety.”

Nothing like having the wind blow GMO pollen into non-GMO fields. Pollinating the non-GMO crops. Then having Monsanto claim property rights on the non-GMO fields.

I wish God would come down and sue Monsanto for patent infringement. Patenting nature and the food supply. How evil can you get?

Anonymous Coward says:

ITS time the world woke up,
and realised these free trade agreements ,
are mostly one sided ,
designed to mainly benefit mainly the usa and large international corporations,
meanwhile these large companys are constantly looking for ways to reduce their tax bills.
Like human genes and medical procedures ,
plants and seeds should not be allowed to be patented .
ITS not like drugs which may take to years of expensive research in
a lab.
Even drugs hav e a limited patent term.

And these agreements are a way of imposing bad us laws and patents on other countrys .

Which would not allow such wide ranging patents
to be passed in their own patent bodys.

eg other countrys have mostly avoided allowing broad stupid patents on software ,
which encourages software trolls to exist.

Anonymous Coward says:

bargaining leverage @ US/Russia trade war

As an agricultural exporter, Guatemala might do well to consider ditching the USA entirely and making a deal with Russia, a country desperately hungry for trading partners right now. (Or at the very minimum, use the threat of forming an exclusive Russian partnership as a bargaining chip in any US trade negotiations).

During the current US/Russia trade war, third world countries now have a rare opportunity to leverage their bargaining power and get a much better deal than they could have gotten last year. Brazil already seems to be warming up to a Russian trade deal, but the remaining question is, will the rest of Latin America follow?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Techdirt is a rag

A bit defensive here. He hasn’t said anything about the quality of the GMO crops period. Just that the existing agriculture is technically “good enough” and the abhorrent legal practices from the absurdity of patenting life. I’m a supporter of GMOs and I hate the absurd corrupt rent-seeking legal regime set up around them.

GEMont (profile) says:

Hooda thunk it!!

Ya know, I always wondered how the American Courts could find Monsanto to be the victim when Monsanto contaminates neighboring farms with their wind-blown mutant seeds.

But apparently its just another secret part of one of those secret trade agreements!

The courts HAVE to find Monsanto as the victim because the government made a deal with Monsanto to always find Monsanto as the victim when they contaminate other people’s non-mutant crops!

I’ll be damned.

Then again, at this rate, we’ll all be damned.

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