RCEP will jeopardise India’s seed industry
Nov. 12, 2019
With Brexit now a certainty, the days of liberal globalization are numbered. Open borders, FTAs and multilateral agreements are no longer in vogue. However, India seems inclined to ink the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), perhaps the world’s biggest free trade agreement. This seems an ill-advised step. India boosts of a vibrant seed sector with public institutions and a variety of private companies engaged in it. The seed sector is the backbone of agriculture, as in all other countries, but the situation in India can’t be compared with that of Australia, Japan, China or other RCEP countries. Seeds are vital to our national security, because any wrong policy decision could sound the death knell for millions of lives, besides the seed economy. We have a large population, which depends on the seed sector for survival. Our plant genetic resources (PGR) and seeds will play a critical role in ensuring food security for future generations.
RCEP if accepted, will bypass WTO and offload all the excess agricultural produce -- grains, seeds to milk -- from China into Indian markets. This step will be detrimental to the Indian seed sector.
India signed the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) and fulfilled all obligations with respect to changing our Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) laws to be TRIPS compliant by 2005. India, in keeping with her traditions and respect for plants and animals, excluded them from patentability. To provide IPR for plants including transgenic plants, India developed a sui generis system and enacted the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights (PPVFR) Act.
Simultaneously, we were harmonising our biodiversity laws with the world. India became the signatory of the Convention on Biodiversity Diversity (CBD) and enacted Biological Diversity Act (BDA) to conserve and allow sustainable use of our biodiversity, including plant genetic resources and seeds. These two treaties have helped India stop biopiracy and develop a unique and progressive form of Farmers’ Rights and Breeder rights legislations. Taking one step further in good faith, we allowed for 100 per cent foreign company subsidiary operations in the country in the seed sector.
They were given full rights for seed production and distribution at par with the domestic companies. Although India allows 100 per cent FDI to foreign entities in the seed sector, Indian companies are not allowed to operate in major RCEP member countries like China and lately Indonesia. They allow only R&D activities by foreign entities. Seed production and distribution are allowed to be taken up only by companies with 49 per cent or lower foreign ownership.
The Chinese allow operations of companies with foreign shareholding in a limited geographic area. For each region the foreign company needs to find local/regional partners for operation.
Indian policy may be more open and not in the national interest, as it is allowing even Chinese owned companies full rights to operate throughout our country without any local partner or shareholder. If RCEP is accepted, Chinese companies which have already set up a strong base in India will start to dump all their seeds into the Indian markets. Small and medium Indian seed companies will take a major hit. Unlike other countries, China and a few other countries don’t allow export of parent lines or germplasm by any seed companies. In India this aspect is not monitored at all.
The writers are with the National Seed Association of India
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