Promoting freedom, innovation, and growth

Connect with IPI

Receive news, research, and updates

June 29, 2006

Friends of Development: Our Way or No Way

  • RSS Feed
[The purpose of this blog entry is to catch up and explain the latest developments at the WIPO Development Agenda meeting in Geneva. Subsequently I will provide background and other information. I'm behind in my blogging due to illness.]

Convention: The proponents of the proposed development agenda call themselves the Friends of Development. Here in Geneva the acronym FOD has come to represent them. I don't like the acronym, so I don't use it. My natural inclination is to refer to them as the "so-called Friends of Development," but that's not particularly courteous, and I have come to personally respect some of the delegates, so I will respect their wishes and refer to them as the Friends of Development, even though I do not agree that their agenda is friendly towards true economic development.

This morning's important developments

This morning on the fourth day of the last authorized meeting of the PCDA, it became clear that those who have been pushing for major changes at WIPO have no real interest in compromise or consensus, and are insisting that they get exactly what they want, all of what they want, or they will shut down the process.

In response to a summary document created after a lot of hard work by the Chairman of the meeting, Ambassador Rigoberto Gauto Vielman (Paraguay), Brazil, Argentina, Cuba and Iran all rudely rejected the document and said that it cannot be the basis of work.

Of course, a number of other countries praised the Chairman for his work, especially for his attempt to attain some productive result on which the body could come to some consensus on.

But the African Group, on which much apparently hinges, also expressed disappointment that the entire proposed development agenda was not poised to move forward. As the spokesman for African Group stated yesterday, "we did not pull these ideas out of thin air." In other words, in the view of the Friends of Development, these ideas were sincerely expressed and they want them moved forward.

The meeting then was adjourned so that regional groups could meet and discuss the situation.

When the meeting reconvened, things went from bad to worse. Brazil and Argentina repeated their rejection of the Chairman's document, and threatened to shut down the PCDA process today, without resolution. At this point, the meeting broke for lunch, with the intention to reconvene at 4 pm.

What happened to provoke Brazil and Argentina's wrath?

To those in the diplomatic community and to those members of the WIPO Secretariat who read this blog, please understand that I admit up front and transparently that I have come to accept the most cynical possible view of the development agenda campaign. My apologies to any who are offended by my opinion and characterization. It is simply my opinion; however, the same sentiments have been expressed to me by countless other observers.

It should have been clear from Day 1 to anyone who has been present at these proceedings since late 2004 that there was only one of four possible outcomes from the development agenda process. Either the entire set of demands of the Friends of Development would be accepted, or some subset of the various proposals would be accepted, or the process would simply be extended indefinitely, or the entire process would fail.

I have never believed that Brazil and Argentina's true intention was to see their development agenda fully implemented (see Background below). They cannot possibly have thought that every single one of their demands would be accepted. They cannot possibly have thought that their proposal would be rubber-stamped. So unless they were willing to agree to accept some subset of proposals, they must have had some other strategy. Today we discovered that I was right.

In the previous PCDA meeting in February, the Chairman identified and synthesized all the various proposals into a list of one-hundred eleven (111!) different itemized proposals. This is the document upon which it was agreed that everyone would work for the second and final PCDA meeting, which is the one currently underway.

After gathering input for three days from the various interested countries, the Chairman introduced a document this morning where he presented the agenda items for which significant or even possible consensus had been expressed. Needless to say, it wasn't all 111. It wasn't exactly what the Friends of Development wanted. But neither was it simply what the United States wanted, either. It was an honest attempt by the Chairman to come up with something concrete upon which consensus could be reached. No one could have done a better job. Someone else might have come up with a slightly different listing. But it couldn't have been appreciably better than the Chairman's list, given the difficulty of the job.

Brazil and Argentina were livid. Not only were they not getting their way, but also it was clear that leadership was going to those hinge regional groups that were interested in making compromises and actually getting something done. And it was clear that the United States was not the obstructionist (see below), having assented to over fifty (50) of the proposals. Brazil and Argentina could not tolerate that.

So they angrily rejected the document, as related above, and later threatened to shut down the process altogether. That is the status at the time of this blog entry.


That's what happened. Now, for my attempt at background and interpretation.

I have previously written an introduction to the WIPO Development Agenda discussions. My opinion and characterization of the process is clear and is included in the previous link. Over time, given what I have observed first hand here in Geneva, I have come to accept the most cynical possible view of this process: Namely, that while the Friends of Development would probably like to have their agenda accepted, that was never their real agenda, and they never really expected to succeed. What the Friends of Development really want to accomplish is twofold:

First, to tie up WIPO, frustrate the US and the rest of the developed economies, and use a hamstrung WIPO as leverage in the fights they really care about, such as more access to agricultural markets in the developed world. In other words, causing problems at WIPO to get their way at WTO. Because what the developed economies really need is a functioning WIPO and the continued promulgation of strong IP protection around the world. And what the developing economies need is plenty of rich markets for their agricultural products. So the developing countries are holding WIPO hostage in their WTO negotiations.

And, for the record, I agree that there is no excuse for US and EU agriculture subsidies. I have blogged on this and on the relationship between the Development Agenda and agriculture subsidies before. So the developing world is correct to complain about how agriculture subsidies are hindering their attempts to develop their economies.

But secondly, Brazil and Argentina also want to fundamentally change the way WIPO works. They don't like the secretariat, particularly how it works, because it doesn't work to their advantage (unlike the way the secretariats at other UN organizations like the WHO do work to their advantage). So what Brazil and Argentina would like to do is see the development agenda process utterly fail, so that they can argue that WIPO doesn't work and needs to fundamentally change the way it works. And their suggestion would be to implement a "Green Room" process such as happens at the WTO, where a small group of the most influential countries makes the decisions. And, of course, this "Green Room" group would include Brazil and Argentina. Then they could make WIPO work to their advantage.

So it is their interest to be able to argue that WIPO doesn't work, even though they themselves are the agents of WIPO's paralysis.

Who are the REAL obstructionists?

Importantly, from the first day that the development agenda discussions began in 2005, the U.S. has been putting forth proposals and expressing support for any number of agenda items. In fact, during the first three days of this final meeting, the U.S. expressed support for more than fifty (50) of the 111 proposals that were being considered.

Frankly, the U.S. expressed support for more agenda items than I could support. In fact, several pro-IP countries refused to support some of the agenda items that the U.S. supported, and thus took harder lines than did the U.S. The U.S. even agreed to agenda items that they don't really support, but which they believe to be relatively harmless.

The U.S. has never throughout this process insisted on "our way or the highway." Rather, the U.S. has done what almost every other interested party has done, and what ever country has the right to do; namely, make proposals, discuss the merits of proposals, and then express their support for some and their lack of support for others.

Conversely, Argentina and Brazil have been trying to railroad the process from Day 1. They have made constant attempts to dictate the agenda, belittle their opponents, introduce documents at the last minute and expect them to be immediately adopted, and they have refused to honor commitments previously agreed to.

It is absurd to introduce a document at the last minute. Everyone appreciates the need to study documents, to consult with governments in their respective capitals, etc. But Brazil and Argentina have repeatedly used this strategy.

But even worse, when the previous PCDA meeting adjourned last February, there was a clear agreement and understanding that a particular document was agreed upon to be the basis of work for the final PCDA meeting. This is the document everyone studied and prepared for. Then, just a few days before this current and final PCDA meeting, Brazil and Argentina introduce a NEW document and insist that IT become the basis of work.

Commendably, the Chairman refused to be thus railroaded. But Brazil and Argentina have stubbornly used this new document as the basis of all of their interventions this week.

So, at the time of this writing, Brazil and Argentina show every sign of intending to paralyze WIPO to achieve other ends.  And this is a real shame, because while Brazil and Argentina probably don't have great need of WIPO's technical assistance, most of the other countries in the Friends of Development coalition very much DO need the technical assistance. Ultimately, a paralyzed or ineffective WIPO hurts the Friends of Development more than it hurts the developed countries.

I'll close this now. There is much more to say, but the 4 pm meeting is starting.

blog comments powered by Disqus
IP Matters



  • TaxBytes-New

Copyright Institute for Policy Innovation 2018. All Rights Reserved Privacy Policy Contact IPI.

e-resources e-resources