Sign-on letter – to the relevant ministries from Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland

Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein: Please, stop double standards! Stop demanding stronger plant variety protection laws from developing countries than you implement yourselves.

 Dear Ministers,

In countries of the Global South most of the seed supply is provided by the diverse farmer-managed seed systems. A central pillar of these systems is the farmer’s right to freely save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seeds. However, the 1991 Act of the UPOV Convention (UPOV 91) deprives farmers of the right to exchange and sell protected seeds or propagating material. Even saving seeds and replanting on their own fields is prohibited for most plant species and restricted for others. In this way, UPOV 91 not only jeopardizes the right to food and food sovereignty, but is also a threat to agrobiodiversity. The diversity of varieties stored in gene banks and cultivated in fields and gardens across the world, which is an indispensable resource for breeding new crops, relies on functioning farmers seed systems. If we destroy these systems, we harm humanity as a whole. The dangers of inappropriate plant variety protection laws have been highlighted by many different reports and studies1 in recent years.

For many years, EFTA States (Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland) have been forcing developing countries to adopt plant variety protection laws in line with UPOV 91 through free trade agreements (FTA). The list of countries that have been forced to join, or to be in line with UPOV 91 includes Morocco (FTA 1999), Jordan (2002), Lebanon (2007), Egypt (2008), Central American States (2014), and Indonesia (2018). Several other FTAs are currently under negotiation.

Ironically, Switzerland, Norway and Liechtenstein have chosen not to comply with the requirements of UPOV91 in their own national laws. In 2005 the Norwegian government turned down a proposal for a UPOV 91 membership and decided to keep the customary rights of farmers to save and use farm-saved seeds and propagating material. The Swiss plant variety protection act allows for the use of farm-saved propagation material for various crops such as wheat or potatoes, without any limit or royalty payment. This was a main request of farmers when the law was negotiated in parliament. Thus, although Switzerland ratified UPOV 91, it is not in line with its requirements. Such a law would prevent any candidate country from joining UPOV. Liechtenstein has no plant variety protection law at all and is not a member of UPOV. It has thus not respected the free trade agreements it has signed over the past 20 years.

Demanding laws from developing countries that are considered even inappropriate by yourselves is hypocritical and unfair. All the more so as farmers‘ rights are even more important for food security in the countries of the Global South than in Switzerland, Norway or Liechtenstein. Seeking to impose laws on countries of the Global South, which were drafted without their involvement, is a neo-colonial dictate running counter to their interest. These countries have the right and a duty to develop laws and policies related to seeds that are best suited to their agricultural system and the needs of their population, always taking into account the Famers’ Right to participate in decision-making processes. It is unsettling to see that rich EFTA countries risk jeopardizing the ability of countries to develop tailored laws, and make use of the flexibilities provided by the World Trade Organization’ Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

For all these reasons, we urge you to remove demands for UPOV 91 compatible plant variety protection laws from your negotiating mandates for future FTAs. This would be an important step towards more justice and a significant contribution towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

First Signatories:

  • Alliance Sud (Switzerland)
  • Brot für Alle (Switzerland)
  • Consumers’ Association of Penang (Malaysia)
  • Development Fund (Norway)
  • Fastenopfer (Switzerland)
  • Grain (International)
  • HEKS (Switzerland)
  • Indonesia for Global Justice – IGJ (Indonesia)
  • Liechtensteinische Gesellschaft für Umweltschutz (Liechtenstein)
  • Public Eye (Switzerland)
  • Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Friends of the Earth, Malaysia)
  • Swissaid (Switzerland)
  • Tellerrand – Verein für solidarisches Handeln (Liechtenstein)
  • Third World Network (Malaysia)
  • APBREBES (International)

Full List of Supporters

1 See for instance: Agriculture development, food security and nutrition: report of the Secretary-General 2015; or The right to food Seed policies and the right to food: enhancing agrobiodiversity and encouraging innovation – a report by  the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter; or Plant Variety Protection in Developing Countries: A Tool for Designing a Sui Generis Plant Variety Protection System: An Alternative to UPOV 1991 by Carlos Correa, or OWNING SEEDS, ACCESSING FOOD – a human rights impact assessment of UPOV 1991 based on case studies in Kenya, Peru and the Philippines.

Sign-On Letter