The return on investment for plant breeders still falls short in many places in the world

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Amid the ever-growing global demand for plant varieties with improved traits and tapping into new production territories, the return on investment for plant breeders still falls short in many places in the world. As the only organization representing ornamental and fruit breeders worldwide, in regard to their Intellectual Property (IP), CIOPORA provides an account herein of the IP flash points around the world closely monitored by the organization.

China is the number one growing market for ornamentals and fruits. With a soaring consumption in the domestic market, Chinese producers are steadily improving their technical capacities to meet demand. However, the deficit of new and improved varieties prevents China from fully unfolding its enormous potential in horticulture. The Chinese government understands the need to provide better incentives in the form of enhanced IP protection to breeders in order to attract such varieties to the market and has been discussing ways to improve the national PBR regime. For some time now, CIOPORA has been supporting this process in China by sharing its views on the specific IP needs of vegetatively reproduced varieties including such solutions as a tailored application of the farmers´ exemption, stronger EDV concept and effective enforcement tools. Unless the breeders’ rights are effectively protected, plant innovators will continue to tread cautiously when it comes to commercialization of innovative plant products in China.

India is another vast market seeking modern plant varieties. Facing the need to protect the interests of ca. 700 million mainly small, subsistence farmers, the Indian Government finds itself in a tight spot when it comes to amendments of its 2001 Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers´ Rights Act. In March 2018, CIOPORA met with Indian officials and industry representatives advising on the tailored solutions for ornamental and fruit crops. Similar to China, the key PBR solutions in India include a balanced application of the farmers’ exemption, the establishment of an effective system of PBR enforcement, as well as a considerable expansion of the currently very limited list of protected species and genera. The latter also raises doubts as to India’s compliance with Article 27 (3) (b) of the TRIPS agreement, which requires the WTO members to provide effective IP protection for all plant varieties.

Shifting focus from Asia to Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico are at the forefront of global fruit and, to a lesser extent, ornamental production. Nevertheless, the PBR laws in these countries remain on the level of UPOV 1978, even though the states are parties to bilateral and multilateral agreements requiring their accession to UPOV 1991. Over the past few years, we have been witnessing a significant push by their contracting partners, including the US Government, toward the improvement of their respective domestic IP and PBR regimes. CIOPORA shares information with these countries on the minimum content of IP Protection according to UPOV 1991 and continuously stresses the benefits of tailored solutions for vegetatively reproduced crops.

On the African continent, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Africa are major horticulture players not providing for the highest standards when it comes to protection of plant innovations. While Egypt, majoring in fruit, is currently revising its PBR law to adhere to the international standard, the second largest rose producer on the continent, Ethiopia, having no PBR regime in place, is increasingly raising concerns among rose breeders.

CIOPORA considers a level playing field, in terms of IP protection for plant varieties, a crucial precondition for a fair global trade. We firmly believe that once improved, PBR will cease to be a hurdle and might, as well, become an effective tool for unleashing the full potential of the world’s horticulture.

Author: Dr. Edgar Krieger, Secretary General of CIOPORA

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