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[casi-analysis] Iraq's new patent law: A declaration of war against farmers

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TITLE: Iraq's new patent law: A declaration of war against farmers
AUTHOR: Focus on the Global South and GRAIN
PUBLICATION: Against the grain
DATE: October 2004
NOTE: A press release announcing the report is available at

Focus on the Global South and GRAIN | October 2004


When former Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) administrator L. Paul
Bremer III left Baghdad after the so-called "transfer of sovereignty" in

June 2004, he left behind the 100 orders he enacted as chief of the
occupation authority in Iraq. Among them is Order 81 on "Patent,
Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant
This order amends Iraq's original patent law of 1970 and unless and
until it
is revised or repealed by a new Iraqi government, it now has the status
force of a binding law.[2]

With important implications for farmers and the future of agriculture in

Iraq, this order is yet another important component in the United
attempts to radically transform Iraq's economy.


For generations, small farmers in Iraq operated in an essentially
unregulated, informal seed supply system. Farm-saved seed and the free
innovation with and exchange of planting materials among farming
has long been the basis of agricultural practice. This has been made
under the new law. The seeds farmers are now allowed to plant --
crop varieties brought into Iraq by transnational corporations in the
of agricultural reconstruction -- will be the property of the
While historically the Iraqi constitution prohibited private ownership
biological resources, the new US-imposed patent law introduces a system
monopoly rights over seeds. Inserted into Iraq's previous patent law is
whole new chapter on Plant Variety Protection (PVP) that provides for
"protection of new varieties of plants." PVP is an intellectual property

right (IPR) or a kind of patent for plant varieties which gives an
monopoly right on planting material to a plant breeder who claims to
discovered or developed a new variety. So the "protection" in PVP has
nothing to do with conservation, but refers to safeguarding of the
commercial interests of private breeders (usually large corporations)
claiming to have created the new plants.

To qualify for PVP, plant varieties must comply with the standards of
UPOV[3] Convention, which requires them be new, distinct, uniform and
stable. Farmers' seeds cannot meet these criteria, making PVP-protected
seeds the exclusive domain of corporations. The rights granted to plant
breeders in this scheme include the exclusive right to produce,
sell, export, import and store the protected varieties. These rights
to harvested material, including whole plants and parts of plants
from the use of a protected variety. This kind of PVP system is often
first step towards allowing the full-fledged patenting of life forms.
Indeed, in this case the rest of the law does not rule out the patenting
plants or animals.

The term of the monopoly is 20 years for crop varieties and 25 for trees
vines. During this time the protected variety de facto becomes the
of the breeder, and nobody can plant or otherwise use this variety
compensating the breeder. This new law means that Iraqi farmers can
freely legally plant nor save for re-planting seeds of any plant variety

registered under the plant variety provisions of the new patent law.[4]
deprives farmers what they and many others worldwide claim as their
right to save and replant seeds.


The new law is presented as being necessary to ensure the supply of good

quality seeds in Iraq and to facilitate Iraq's accession to the WTO[5].
it will actually do is facilitate the penetration of Iraqi agriculture
the likes of Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow Chemical -- the corporate

giants that control seed trade across the globe. Eliminating competition

from farmers is a prerequisite for these companies to open up operations
Iraq, which the new law has achieved. Taking over the first step in the
chain is their next move.

The new patent law also explicitly promotes the commercialisation of
genetically modified (GM) seeds in Iraq. Despite serious resistance from

farmers and consumers around the world, these same companies are pushing
crops on farmers around the world for their own profit. Contrary to what
industry is asserting, GM seeds do not reduce the use of pesticides, but

they pose a threat to the environment and to people's health while they
increase farmers dependency on agribusiness. In some countries like
the 'accidental' release of GM crops is deliberately manipulated[6],
physical segregation of GM and GM-free crops is not feasible. Once
introduced into the agro-ecological cycle there is no possible recall or

cleanup from genetic pollution[7].

As to the WTO argument, Iraq legally has a number of options for
with the organisation's rules on intellectual property but the US simply

decided that Iraq should not enjoy or explore them.


Iraq is one more arena in a global drive for the adoption of seed patent

laws protecting the monopoly rights of multinational corporations at the

expense of local farmers. Over the past decade, many countries of the
have been compelled8 to adopt seed patent laws through bilateral
treaties[9]. The US has pushed for UPOV-styled plant protection laws
the IPR standards of the WTO in bilateral trade through agreements for
example with Sri Lanka[10] and Cambodia[11]. Likewise, post-conflict
countries have been especially targeted. For instance, as part of its
reconstruction package the US has recently signed a Trade and Investment

Framework Agreement with Afghanistan[12], which would also include
IPR-related issues.

Iraq is a special case in that the adoption of the patent law was not
of negotiations between sovereign countries. Nor did a sovereign
body enact it as reflecting the will of the Iraqi people. In Iraq, the
patent law is just one more component in the comprehensive and radical
transformation of the occupied country's economy along neo-liberal lines
the occupying powers. This transformation would entail not just the
of favoured laws but also the establishment of institutions that are
conducive to a free market regime.

Order 81 is just one of 100 Orders left behind by Bremer and among the
notable of these laws is the controversial Order 39 which effectively
down the over-all legal framework for Iraq's economy by giving foreign
investors rights equal to Iraqis in exploiting Iraq's domestic market.
together, all these laws, which cover virtually all aspects of the
-- including Iraq's trade regime, the mandate of the Central Bank,
regulations on trade union activities, etc. -- lay the bases for the US'

bigger objective of building a neo-liberal regime in Iraq. Order 81
explicitly states that its provisions are consistent with Iraq's
from a non-transparent centrally planned economy to a free market
characterised by sustainable economic growth through the establishment
of a
dynamic private sector, and the need to enact institutional and legal
reforms to give it effect."

Pushing for these "reforms" in Iraq has been the US Agency for
Development, which has been implementing an Agricultural Reconstruction
Development Program for Iraq (ARDI) since October 2003. To carry it out,
one-year US$5 million contract was granted to the US consulting firm
Development Alternatives, Inc.[13] with the Texas A&M University[14] as
implementing partner. Part of the work has been sub-contracted to Sagric

International[15] of Australia. The goal of ARDI in the name of
the farming sector is to develop the agribusiness opportunities and thus

provide markets for agricultural products and services from overseas.

Reconstruction work, thus, is not necessarily about rebuilding domestic
economies and capacities, but about helping corporations approved by the

occupying forces to capitalise on market opportunities in Iraq.[16] The
legal framework laid down by Bremer ensures that although US troops may
leave Iraq in the conceivable future, US domination of Iraq's economy is

here to stay.


Food sovereignty is the right of people to define their own food and
agriculture policies, to protect and regulate domestic agricultural
production and trade, to decide the way food should be produced, what
be grown locally and what should be imported. The demand for food
sovereignty and the opposition to the patenting of seeds has been
central to
the small farmers' struggle all over the world over the past decade. By
fundamentally altering the IPR regime, the US has ensured that Iraq's
agricultural system will remain under "occupation" in Iraq.

Iraq has the potential to feed itself. But instead of developing this
capacity, the US has shaped the future of Iraq's food and farming to
the interests of US corporations. The new IPR regime pays scant respect
Iraqi farmers' contributions to the development of important crops like
wheat, barley, date and pulses. Samples of such farmers' varieties were
starting to be saved in the 1970s in the country's national gene bank in
Ghraib outside Baghdad. It is feared that all these have been lost in
long years of conflict. However, the Syria-based Consultative Group on
International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)[17] centre -- International
Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) still holds
accessions of several Iraqi varieties. These collections that are
of the Iraqi farmers' knowledge are supposed to be held in trust by the
centre. These comprise the agricultural heritage of Iraq belonging to
Iraqi farmers that ought now to be repatriated. There have been
where germplasm held by an international agricultural research centre
been "leaked out" for research and development to Northern
Such kind of "biopiracy" is fuelled by an IPR regime that ignores the
art of the farmer and grants rights to a breeder who claims to have
something new from the material and knowledge of the very farmer.

While political sovereignty remains an illusion, food sovereignty for
Iraqi people has already been made near impossible by these new
Iraq's freedom and sovereignty will remain questionable for as long as
Iraqis do not have control over what they sow, grow, reap and eat.


[1] Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated
and Plant Variety Law of 2004, CPA Order No. 81, 26 April 2004,
[2] The PVP provisions will be put into effect as soon as the Iraqi
of Agriculture passes the necessary executive orders of implementation
accordance with this law.
[3] UPOV stands for International Union for the Protection of New Plant
Varieties. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland it is an
organisation with 53 members, mostly industrialised countries. The UPOV
Convention is a set of standards for the protection of plant varieties,
mainly geared toward industrial agriculture and corporate interests. See
[4] Chapter Threequater Article 15 B: Farmers shall be prohibited from
re-using seeds of protected varieties or any variety mentioned?.
[5] The World Trade Organisation, wherein the Iraqi Government has an
observer status.
[7] GRAIN, "Confronting contamination: 5 reasons to reject
Seedling, April 2004, p 1.
[8] GRAIN, PVP in the South: caving in to UPOV,
[9] GRAIN, Bilateral agreements imposing TRIPS-plus intellectual
rights on biodiversity in developing countries,
[14] The University's Agriculture Program "is a recognised world leader
using biotechnology?" & the University works closely with the USDA
Agriculture Research Service.
[17] Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)
system, with its 16 International Agricultural Research Centres (IARCs)
which ICARDA is one, holds the world's largest collections of plant
resources outside their natural habitat, which includes both farmers'
varieties and improved varieties.
[18] In 2001 it was discovered that a US plant geneticist had obtained
seeds of the original strain of the famed Thai Jasmine rice, Khao Dok
(KDM) 105, from the Philippines-based CGIAR centre - International Rice
Research Institute (IRRI). But no Material Transfer Agreement (MTA)
in the process, despite international obligations on IRRI to enforce

'Against the grain' is a series of short opinion pieces on recent trends
developments in the areas of biodiversity management and control. It is
published by GRAIN on an irregular basis, and is available from our
website: Print copies can be requested from GRAIN, Girona
E-08010 Barcelona, Spain. Email: This particular
the grain' was produced in collaboration with Focus on the Global South
(; email:

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