By JOSEPH OLANYO
Trade experts, legislators and civil society organisations have called for an indefinite extension of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement until poor countries like Uganda develop.
The TRIPS agreement requires East African countries and all other WTO member countries to protect and enforce all kinds of Intellectual Property (IP) – a legal concept that refers to creations of the mind for which exclusive rights like copyrights, trademarks and patents are reserved. The extension period is critical for EAC owing to the state of the affected sectors such as health and agriculture. But even then, the partner states have not developed positions yet on approaching the important process.
On the basis of their economic and financial constraints, the extension was given on the assumption that by 2013, Least Developed Countries (LDCs) like Uganda would have developed their technical capacities and industrial base. The extension period granted to LDCs expires in July 2013. But LDCs contend that they need extra time to build their capacities to produce drugs, ensure food security and review and modify their laws to ensure they provide for public welfare through flexibilities.
At a recent meeting organized by the Open Society Institute in conjunction with SEATINI Uganda, participants called for the period to be extended.
“It is absurd that we were not able to create capacity at the time we were given. However, we have no choice but to get the extension unless they want to suffocate us,” said Bernard Mulengani, a Member of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA).
“Capacity may be available but funding is a challenge. So, we need a very informed technical team that can negotiate. Otherwise, without an extension, the population will suffer,” he added.
Private Sector and CSO officials from East Africa note that if the transition period is not extended, LDCs face the specter of failure to avail affordable goods like scholastic materials, seeds and medicines to impoverished citizens. SEATINI Country Director Jane Nalunga said it was important that “we as actors in this process speak the same language on critical processes that affect our development”
Elizabeth Tamale, the Assistant Commissioner External Trade, ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives, said there was need for a national framework that brings different agencies together and harmonises positions on trade discussions.
“We need to think of what provisions are there in the law, study them and develop a framework as we seek for the extension. It should avoid compromising issues either for developing countries or LDCs,” she said.