The newsroom

15 May 2013

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Calls for extension of TRIPS for LDCs

The WTO member states gathered on March 5th and 6th 2013 in Geneva to discuss an appeal from Less Developed Countries (LDC) for WTO members to consider extending a transition period before the rules contained in the TRIPS (agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) take effect.

While the start of the transition period initially agreed upon was set for January 1st 2006, LDC's had managed to defer it until July 1st 2013, following a decision approved by member states on November 29th.

This new request implies that the constraints remain and that a new rescheduling seems essential. Awake to the fact that these LDC's need more time to overcome the constraints associated with implementation, members agreed to prolong the transition period, normally set to expire in July this year. No decision has yet been reached however on a new deadline with the council set to consult members before June, a month before the current deadline.

WTO negotiators point to the fact that TRIPS recognises the need for LDC's to receive special attention when it comes to Intellectual Property (IP) by allowing for a flexible approach. Based on article 66.1, which provides for transition periods in LDC's, they are able to apply for a transition period and the extension of an existing one, depending on their needs and development imperatives.

A request aiming to extend the transition period for as long as LDC members are considered LDC's was presented to the TRIPS Council in November 2012 by several hundred civil society organisations who defend those who would suffer from the consequences. A new deferral would also present significant breathing space for LDC's who remain strained economically, financially and administratively. It allows for an additional period during which the poorest countries would be exempt from applying stringent rules imposed by TRIPS in terms of IP, enabling continued easy access to generic drugs.

End of UK bilateral aid to South Africa in 2015

The UK aid programme, currently worth £19m, will end in 2015, announced International Development secretary Justine Greening. UK is moving toward accepting the African nation's relatively stable economic status, however this decision triggered sharp reactions from south African officials.

According to the UK Government, the two countries will begin a new relationship based on sharing skills and knowledge, not on development funding, in recognition of the progress South Africa has made over the last two decades. The country now accounts for over a third of sub-Saharan Africa's gross domestic product (GDP) and is a member of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) group of emerging economies and the G20.

"I have agreed with my South African counterparts that South Africa is now in a position to fund its own development. It is right that our relationship changes to one of mutual cooperation and trade (...)" said Greening.

"This is such a major decision with far reaching implications on the projects that are currently running and it is tantamount to redefining our relationship" the Department of International Relations and Co-operation said in a statement.

"The UK government should have informed the government of South Africa through official diplomatic channels of their intentions."

UK officials said in return that they had had "months of discussions" and "many meetings" with their South African counterparts prior to the decision. UK foreign Secretary William Hague responded to the accusations of Pretoria saying "No doubt there is some confusion, or bureaucratic confusion about that perhaps on the South African side. But I am not going to fling accusations about that."

The UK move coincides with South African efforts to tighten diplomatic ties with emerging nations, for example China and India. South Africa joined the BRICS group  in 2010, however, economically speaking it remains the minnow of the group.

South Africa - EU in citrus fruit disease dispute

A dispute between South African fruit exporters and EU officials has resurfaced concerning EU phytosanitary import restrictions on citrus fruit. The Citrus Black Spot (CBS), a common and benign fungal infection, renders the infected fruit unmarketable and severe import restrictions were launched in 1992 and 2000 by the European Economic Community and EU respectively.

The South African view is that the current restrictions are more stringent than technically justified, based on an increasing amount of scientific evidence upheld by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF).

Since 2012 the EU expect full compliance with the EU phytosanitary measures and a threshold of not more than 5 interceptions for CBS in one trading season has been set up. In case of failure, the EU would consider initiate  the procedure of safeguard measures against citrus fruits from SA.

Tensions brewing over Rooibos in South Africa

Rooibos is the subject of a trademark fight since a French firm Compagnie de Trucy tried to trademark the name last year. South African authorities objected to the registration of the term Rooibos and applied to register the term as a Certification Mark under the South African Trade Marks Act, under which a registration serves as the basis for international protection granted to Geographical Indications.

GIs are becoming a useful intellectual property right for developing countries because of their potential to add value and promote rural socio-economic development. Most countries have a range of local products that correspond to the concept of Geographical Indications but only a few are already known or protected globally for example: Basmati rice or Darjeeling tea.

Local industries cannot legally prevent other foreign companies trademarking terms such as "rooibos" as they have not registered the necessary trademarks, often because of the high costs.

Renewal of the EU-Seychelles fishing partnership agreement

The European Union and the Seychelles discussed, on 15-17 April 2013, the renewal of the Protocol to the Fisheries Partnership Agreement, which is set to expire in January 2014.

This fisheries agreement allows EU vessels mainly from Spain, Portugal, France and Italy to fish in the Seychelles waters and is part of the tuna network fisheries agreements in the Indian Ocean.

Earlier in March, both sides agreed on the need for continuity of the current Protocol so that fishing activities could continue in the Seychelles Exclusive Economic Zone without interruption. The second round of discussions, which took place recently, focused on issues such as fishing opportunities and financial compensation.

According to the EU, negotiations were conducted in an open and constructive atmosphere which enabled progress to be made towards the finalisation of the new Protocol.

Obama proposes food aid reform

A federal budget submitted by the Obama Administration to the US Congress last Wednesday would - if approved - include a sweeping overhaul of US food aid. Specifically, the proposal would sharply curb monetisation - the sale of in-kind food aid by development organisations tasked with delivering the assistance.

In addition, the proposed reform would expand the ability of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to help those in need more efficiently through cash transfers and other best practices, thereby increasing the reach of its food relief programmes to four million additional people.

USAID, however, will still be obliged to spend 55 percent of its US$1.4 billion in total funding for emergency food assistance on US commodities, shipping, and other costs.

The budget plan will, however, have to be approved by Congress before the changes can take effect.

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