GENEVA (Reuters) - The United States is resisting efforts at world trade talks to expand protections for geographical food names, such as Parma ham.
It is also objecting to attempts to require patent seekers to disclose the source of genetic resources or traditional knowledge used to make drugs.
About 100 members of the World Trade Organization — including the European Union and India — are pushing for progress on the TRIPS (trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights) issues at a high-stakes meeting to bring the long-running Doha round to a close this year.
“These TRIPS issues are important to many members, but we think it’s vital to keep the focus of this meeting on agriculture, (manufactured goods), services,” said Gretchen Hamel, a spokeswoman for U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab.
“This meeting is not the time to create new mandates on the TRIPS issues.”
The United States is participating in Doha round talks to create an international register for wine and alcohol names drawn from areas where they originated, such as the Champagne region in France.
But, with other nations such as Australia and Argentina, it sees the register as simply a database, and rejects EU proposals to give mandatory protection to entries on the register as cumbersome and impractical. And it opposes extending the register beyond wines and spirits.
“There is no mandate in Doha for GI (geographical indications) extension. We do not think that is a good idea and we are not currently engaged on that subject, nor do we intend to be,” Schwab said at WTO headquarters on Tuesday.
The EU has abandoned efforts to “claw back” place names that have become generic in the new world, such as parmesan cheese, but still wants to protect them in third markets where they are not yet common parlance.
Meanwhile, many developing countries want to make sure they get a fair share of the benefits from drugs derived from their stock of genetic resources or traditional knowledge.
A group including Brazil, India and other countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa want to amend the WTO TRIPS agreement to require patent applicants to disclose the country of origin of genetic resources such as wild plants and traditional knowledge used in inventions and also show evidence they received “prior informed consent” before using the materials.
A third plank would require the patent holders to show evidence of a “fair and equitable” benefit sharing plan.
The National Foreign Trade Council, a U.S. business group whose members include leading drug manufacturer Pfizer and top food and beverage company Pepsi, urged Schwab and EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson in letters on Monday not to overload this week’s meeting.
“In our view, both these issues are beyond the negotiating mandate of the Doha Round and have no place in the crucial discussions taking place in Geneva this week,” the business group said.
“Negotiators should focus their attention on making substantive progress on the three pillars of the Doha Round — agriculture, manufactured goods, and services — and not be diverted by the introduction of new and controversial topics,” the group added.
But Gopal Pillai, top civil servant at India’s Commerce Ministry, told delegates on Tuesday it was impossible to ignore demands made by more than 100 WTO members.
“The political importance of these issues for the membership is to be recognized and it is essential that ministers provide clear instructions for intensive negotiations on the three issues as a part of the single undertaking” for completing the round, he said.
Editing by Jonathan Lynn