Targeting the Third World`s Yulnerability

  • 14/04/1993

THE DUNKEL draft on the renegotiated GATT is finally becoming a public concern in India and farmers are taking the issue to the streets. Several industrial sectors, too, have expressed concern about some of its provisions. Nevertheless, the government continues to fight shy of revealing either its stand or its strategy in the ongoing negotiations, except to reiterate piously that it will assuredly protect India"s economic interests. Unfortunately, secrecy has bred more suspicion than confidence.

If adopted as it is, the Dunkel draft would have a considerable impact on India"s economy and ecology and curtail its freedom of action. Prices of several vital commodities would go up and the worst-affected.woul "d be drugs and medicines because the pharmaceutical industry in India has taken the maximum advantage of the country"s patent laws, which do not provide product patents for certain importapt items for the public such as medicines. Hence, the same product can be produced by any manufacturer who comes up with a new process to manufacture it. Taking advantage of this provision in the Indian Patents Act, manufacturers have been able to produce important medicines ontheir own and sell them cheaply in the Indian market. This will not be possible if the Dunkel proposals are accepted becau "so the price of Indian pharmaceuticals will increase considerably.

Because patent protection may make new products unavailable for production in India, their imports will result in a continuing drain on the country"s foreign exchange reserves. An example of this may be chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) substitutes that are critical in the refrigeration industry. Required under the Montreal Protocol to phase out CFCs, countries like India would prefer to produce substitutes domestically instead of importing them. If product patents were not available in India for CFC substitutes, Indian scientists could try and find a new process for these substitutes, which would also mean promoting indigenous production.

The Dunkel draft does not even recognise the concept of compulsory licensing, which requires a foreign innovator obtaining a patent for a particular product in India, to manufacture the product in India to get the benefit of patent protection. If the manufacturer fails to "work" the patent here, it would seem only fair for the manufacturer to license an Indian company to produce the product locally. But, according to the Dunkel proposals, mere imports would qualify the manufacturer for the working of a patent. This puts developing countries at a great disadvantage, especially those that would like to promote domestic manufacture.

The most dramatic impact is expected in agriculture, with the Dunkel draft unequivocally upholding the interests of seed developers. The fear is that under Dunkel, farmers will no longer be able to keep back part of their harvest for use as seed. Instead, the farmers will have to go to the companies again and again to buy seed for sowing. This exposes a country"s food production - the most basic activity for human existence - to control by seed companies, besides Wng galling to Third World countries, whose farmers selected, bred and conserved the seeds that form the raw material for future seed development by the big cor4panies. And these farmers will get nothing in return fd6their contribution.

The Dunkel draft has to be" seen as part of a net that the West-dominsled world economic system is casting over the Third World. Growing Western financial control is wtet ed through institutions like the Inilernational Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which dictate the financial policies that govern Third World economies. The renegotiated GATT will further erode sovereignty in such areas as trade and intellectual property, and North-influenced global and national environmental conventions and regulations will increasingly determine the South"s use of its natural resources.

All these factors are forcing fledgling Third World economies and ecological systems to open up and compete with the West - on terms set by the latter Will the developing world-face up to this challenge? Many believe the South can take on the North through grit, determination and its advantage of cheap labour. In fact, one lobby of Indian farmers angry at what it considers being subjected to inefficient and erroneous state policies, is arguing for precisely this response to the challenge. There are many more, however, who are con- vinced this is impossible because the rules of the game are being written almost exclusively by the North. The Indian government must take the country into full confidence and outline all the implications of GATT and explain what the country"s position and strategy should be. Even if it is accepted that India cannot stand alone and must become part of a global consensus, the government must fight to make that consensus more equitable.

Hence, a new era of diplomacy will have to open up. It is clear Third World indebtedness is so high, South- South solidarity has virtually disappeared on important issues and developing countries are forced individually to accord more value to bilateral relationships with developed countries than to solidarity with each other. In such circumstances, developing countries may have to establish links with appropriate interest groups in the North, such as farmers in Europe who are protesting GATT. Third World diplomats have not done much of this in the past and they cannot do it now by themselves. They will have to ensure they involve their own NGOs and other interest groups to get such international dialogue going. +his happened to some extent in environmental negotiations and is proof that to be effective. Indian negotiators will have to take into confidence their own interest groups and NGOs.

This, of course, implies a new style of working. The Dunkel draft not only has to be thoroughly understood but also fought effectively. There should be no doubt that the fight is going to be daunting. But the sooner we develop suitable strategies, the better equipped we will be to argue our positions convincingly.