Malawi Government has said it is not ready to enforce Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) which demands that those in breach of any relevant aspects of the agreement be prosecuted.
Trips, an agreement under the World Trade Organisation (WTO), demands that all members apply and enforce intellectual property (IP) rights.
Responding to an e-mailed questionnaire last week, Ministry of Industry and Trade spokesperson Wiskes Nkombezi said Malawi, like other Least Developed Countries (LDCs), is not ready to implement Trips agreement.
LDCs are, however, until July 1 2013 exempted from a full application of the agreement.
But experts contend that full application of the agreement may raise prices of some protected goods, thereby restricting access to essential technology and crucial plant varieties to people and organisations.
Nkombezi said Trips compliance entails alignment of Malawi laws such as civil and criminal procedures, administrative procedures, and intervention of police and customs authorities where there is breach of the agreement.
“To comply with the agreement there is a need to assume a wide range of obligations in almost all areas of IP. In many areas, the pre-Trips laws of Malawi require very substantial change, particularly to handle new issues, such as protection under copyright law of computer programmes and data bases.
“There are also areas in which no previous legislation existed at all such as in the case of undisclosed information, integrated circuits and plant varieties.
“Malawi is yet to develop. As such, we need freedom from IP rules and the high prices associated with it if we are to develop economically and technologically,” argued Nkombezi.
He feared that any deviation from standards set by the agreement, if the exemption is not extended, may lead to a dispute with other members under WTO rules.
He added that if existence of a violation is determined, the affected country can apply trade retaliation against the non-complying country in any WTO related agreement.
Nkombezi, however, hoped the plea by LDCs for the extension of the waiver will be heeded and that rich countries, who are proponents of stringent adherence to the WTO Trips agreement will understand the economic and social environment compelling LDCs to seek these waivers.
National Working Group on Trade Policy (NWGTP) chairperson Geoff Mkandawire in an interview on Sunday said enforcement of the agreement would be disastrous to Malawi.
“Malawi is party to Trips agreement. If the exemption on LDCs is not extended, Malawi will certainly be in breach if it does not enforce it.
“Malawi needs to develop its own technology. We need to encourage research and technical development so that we should also benefit from locally protected products. Patents and copyright laws are designed to boost trade and encourage innovation,” said Mkandawire.
Denis Kibira, a medicine adviser in Uganda was reported by The New Vision newspaper of that country as saying LDCs do not need any further extension of Trips but suspension.
“The Trips have not really benefited us. What we need are anti-counterfeits laws, strong boarder measures, medicine seizures and media scares,” he said.
He argued that East African Community (EAC) does not need an extension of Trips to put IP laws, but rather technological transfers to set up pharmaceuticals for medicines.
Details obtained from WTO website indicate that during a formal council meeting on intellectual property on March 5 and 6 this year, no decision was reached on the extension of the LDCs Trips transition period.
WTO says the new chairperson Alfredo Suescum of Panama will consult members before the next meeting in June, which falls before the transition period expires.
WTO, however, says the July 1 2013 deadline does not apply to pharmaceutical patents, which currently have a longer transition period for LDCs which expires on January 1 2016.
The WTO website says as indicated during the discussion, broadly, members are willing to accept an extension or to consider it. It further says the members differ on whether another deadline should be set or the transition should apply to each country until it graduates from LDC status.
But WTO says developed countries generally see the extension as extra time for LDCs to build up the ability to comply with the agreement. For that reason, the extension included requirements for developed countries to provide assistance and for LDCs to identify their priority needs.
WTO adds that developing countries that are not least-developed supported extending the transition period with others specifically also supporting extending it until a country graduates.