Intellectual Property in the EU-MERCOSUR Free Trade Agreement: Opportunities and challenges for family farming
The role of regionalism over multilateralism can be glimpsed in the new pre and post pandemic global scenario. In this sense, MERCOSUR's external relations is an ongoing process that presents opportunities, since the world needs food and the countries of the region produce it, being family farmers necessary participants. Today, MERCOSUR's foreign relations agenda includes the EU, the EFTA (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland), Canada, Singapore, and South Korea, as well as the deepening of ties with Latin America.
The Agreement signed between the EU and MERCOSUR is the broadest and most ambitious agreement reached by two blocs in all history, creating a market for goods and services for 800 million consumers. The opening process will result in preferential conditions for external markets that demand food, organic products, artisanal elaborations, and there are enormous opportunities for the productions of family farming (FF).
A challenge then arises, since the strategy should focus on the access of FF products to external markets. In this scenario, it is worth asking what is the strategic positioning and how to approach the strengthening of the capacities of the sector in the field of intellectual property, an undisputed tool for the strategy to be drawn.
To this end, the central elements of the EU-MERCOSUR agreement on the matter and the actions under way at the MERCOSUR level are described below.
The European Union (EU) and the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) signed the Framework Agreement for Interregional Cooperation on December 15, 1995 in Madrid. The framework agreement includes three pillars: political dialogue, cooperation, and trade. The latter was the one that took the longest to reach a consensus, due to the challenges and opportunities created by an expanded market of 580 million people. On June 28, 2019, the ministers of both regions announced the successful conclusion of the trade negotiations, the first between two customs unions.
Regarding intellectual property, the negotiations resulted is a text with balanced commitments for both parties.
The objectives reflect a balance of the views of the parties. The first objective is to facilitate the access, production and commercialization of innovative and creative products, but with the ultimate aim of contributing to a more sustainable, equitable and inclusive economy. The second is to achieve an adequate and effective level of protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights always linked to the actual transfer and dissemination of technology that favors social and economic well-being, introducing the concept of public interest. The third objective foresees promoting research and development as well as access to knowledge, therefore strengthening the public domain.
It is also essential to underline that the guiding principles are balanced. In this sense, MERCOSUR included: exceptions and implementation flexibilities, public health, economic and social development objectives, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the Development Agenda Recommendations (WIPO).
The protection of biodiversity and traditional knowledge is contemplated by Parties that recognize the importance and value of biological diversity and its components, as well as related traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities.
For MERCOSUR, the inclusion of Public Health as a safeguarded policy objective that cannot be limited by commitments on intellectual property rights -today of special relevance given the COVID-19 pandemic- was crucial.
The Agreement also establishes a series of provisions regarding cooperation, such as the exchange of information and experiences, technical assistance, capacity building, exchange and training of personnel, cooperation in the application of the Convention on Biological Diversity and related instruments, and national frameworks on access to genetic resources and related innovations and practices in traditional knowledge, among other things.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) establish a direct link between FF and the achievement of sustainable development. Through them, the international community is committed to trying to meet the challenge of eradicating hunger and poverty, achieving development for all people, and doing so in a sustainable way. For its fulfillment, FF is seen as one of the pillars of inclusive development. Indeed, FF is strongly positioned in the Sustainable Development Agenda that the United Nations General Assembly approved on September 2015 and that constitutes the global development framework for the next 15 years. It shows the way towards a vision of integral development where the role of a sustainable FF is central to feed the whole humanity.
Thus, the United Nations Decade of Family Farming (2019-2028) aims to bring a new perspective on what it means to be a family farmer in a rapidly changing world and highlights the important role that family farmers play in the eradication of hunger and the construction of the food future, especially now in the context of COVID-19. FF offers a unique opportunity to ensure food security, improve livelihoods, better manage natural resources, protect the environment and achieve sustainable development, especially in rural areas.
At the regional level, the Mercosur Specialized Meeting on Family Farming (REAF) was created in 2004 with the aim of strengthening public policies for the sector, promoting trade in family farming products, and facilitating marketing in the region. It is a space for political dialogue that promotes a work platform in a sustained manner and that summons Governments and Organizations of the FF of Mercosur’s member states, being it key that differentiated public policies for FF are developed, reducing this way the asymmetries between rural producers in the different countries.
In the new scenario of MERCOSUR's foreign relations, it is worth asking where is the FF located in the process of opening the bloc. In this regard, as a consequence of the conclusion of the MERCOSUR negotiations with the EU, the REAF has proposed to address the strengthening of the capacities of the peasant family farming sector in the field of intellectual property, since it is transversal and has a direct impact on the adoption of new technologies and on the development of value-added instruments.
The central aspects of the Work Program launched in 2020 are:
i) training and capacity building to value FF products at origin, which includes seals, collective and certification marks, geographical indications and other distinctive signs of the productions.
ii) implementation of technology transfer for FF, with focus on the family farmers’ priorities and needs.
iii) protection of biodiversity, genetic resources and traditional knowledge, and of the existing mechanisms in favor of the fair and equitable sharing of benefits for producers of family farming derived from the use of genetic resources.
The preliminary analysis shows that the chapter on intellectual property of the EU-MERCOSUR Agreement is relatively balanced for both blocks. The challenge is how to guarantee that small farmers as well as peasant and indigenous family farming benefit from the opportunities that the bloc's foreign relations negotiations generate.
In this sense, it will be very important to focus efforts on strengthening the added value of regional productions, and the fair and equitable distribution for the use of genetic resources for food and agriculture, with the direct benefit of the rooting, development and economic growth of local populations. Likewise, attention must be paid to the implementation of technology transfer so that it takes into account the priorities and needs of family farmers, developing national and regional strategies that guarantee an inclusive and balanced development of all rural populations.
Roxana Blasetti is Executive Coordinator of the Federal Agricultural Council (CFA) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries of Argentina. Specialist in negotiations and international trade in the agro-industrial area, she teaches postgraduate courses at the Law School of the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), at the Integration Institute of the University of La Plata (UNLP) and at the National University of Montevideo. Director of the Specialization in International Trade in Agroindustries FAUBA, she is an Associate Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition (Munich-Germany).
*This text reflects the author's personal opinion.