[Food Sovereignty and Agriculture] New Mega-Treaty in the Pipeline: What RCEP Means for Farmers' Seeds in Asia

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This is a summary of a GRAIN article: https://www.grain.org/article/entries/5405-new-mega-treaty-in-the-pipeline-what-does-rcep-mean-for-farmers-seeds-in-asia

What is the RCEP? RCEP (the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) is a regional trade agreement, which will restrict farmers’ seeds. The participant countries are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, China, India, New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea. RCEP will affect 3.5 billion people and 12% of world trade. It will cover a range of issues from trade in goods and services to investment, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property, competition and dispute settlement. While considered more favorable to low and middle-income countries than the TPP, leaked negotiating texts raise serious concerns for farmers’ control over seeds and the fate of indigenous and local people’s traditional knowledge in Asia.

What are the Impacts on Seeds? Traditionally farmers save and exchange seeds, crossing different varieties and storing seeds. However, after the Green Revolution of the 1960s, government and corporate programs worked together to replace farmers’ seeds with high yielding varieties. According to the Asia Pacific Seed Association, farm-saved seeds account for 80-90% of all seeds used in Asia. That is why corporations are pressuring governments to adopt intellectual property legislation that would privatizes these seeds and allow them to control and monopolize them. Trade agreements have become the mechanism of choice for implementing the rules that make it illegal for farmers to save, swap, sell or plant their own seeds.

What do the Leaked Documents reveal? The leaked documents point to a number of real dangers for farmers’ seeds. First, Japan and South Korea want all RCEP members to join UPOV 1991. UPOV favors seed companies by giving them exclusive rights to control the production, reproduction, sale, export and import of “their” varieties. So seed companies can later claim their rights were violated if someone multiplies their seeds without their permission or exchanges seeds similar to the company’s variety. Even Japan wants to criminalize seed saving which means that the import and export of seeds would be monitored, and any shipment of seeds suspected of having been produced without the breeder’s authorization or payment of a license fee would be suspended. Furthermore India wants all RCEP members to codify traditional knowledge and make it available to patent office. If the genetic resources or traditions are compiled and made available, companies like Monsanto or Syngenta could easily tap into this pool of information and appropriate the knowledge and genetic resources belonging to farming and indigenous communities.

What Does This Mean for Farmers? Despite resistance from peasant movements, over the past 50 years, many countries’ seed policies have gotten stricter for farmers - and more liberal for seed companies. People in Thailand marched against demands implementing UPOV 1991 and Indian farmers have long protested against the Plant Variety Protection and Farmers’ Right Act of 2001 that restricts farmers’ seed exchanges. It is clear that RCEP will restrict seed saving and seed exchange, increase their dependence on external inputs, and raise their costs of production because they can only legally obtain seeds by buying them from a licensed seller and are banned from saving them. This would force farmers to pay triple the current price for seeds.

What Should We Do? RCEP could be signed in Laos as early as August 2016. We need to urgently step up our work to raise awareness about what the RCEP means for farmers and food sovereignty in Asia. We also need to help farmers’ unions, indigenous peoples’ organization and food rights activists to join forces with other sectors. Such alliances are needed if we are to stop these trade talks that endanger the lives and livelihood of billions of people.

originally by GRAIN

summarized by Jeong-eun Hwang (General Secretary, ISC)