December 05, 2001

Trick or Treaty? How the IU became an IOU

Is "The Law of the Seed" a White Elephant. Or the Mouse that could roar?

TRICK OR TREATY? The vote - in the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's Blue Room on the third floor of the agency's headquarters in Rome, went smoothly enough. The last real battle ended (appropriately enough) on Halloween night - October 31st, late in the evening when the U.S. attempted to introduce a new clause in the treaty that would have allowed them to embargo germplasm to Cuba or other "enemies" of "enduring freedom". That lost, the U.S. also attempted to remove any references critical of intellectual property in the text. The Chair, Ambassador Fernando Gerbasi of Venezuela, was firm and fair and told them it was no deal.

PRECLUDED AND DELUDED: Perhaps the only real surprise - when the plenary vote came a few days later - was that the United States and Japan abstained in approving the treaty rather than voting against it. Rene Salazar, the Philippine delegate bruised and battle-hardened from the "seven year bitch" wondered if the mild U.S. response was in reaction to a tough letter to the Americans from U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who publicly scolded the delegation about Farmers' Rights, Terminator technology, and the need to back the treaty. Several days later, however, when the biennial FAO Conference and Council sessions were coming to closure, the U.S. took the floor again to insist that the record make clear that the United States was "precluded" from joining the treaty because it was not allowed to include the "national security" (read "embargo") clause.

This caused a stir. In declaring they were precluded", the U.S. rendered itself ineligible to participate in the Interim Committee that will prepare the way for the Treaty's Governing Body once the text is ratified by 40 countries. Unlike the Biodiversity Convention - where the U.S. plays an active role because it says it will someday ratify the accord - the delegation will be able to make no such claims on The Law of the Seed. This leaves the G77 and Europe to lay the ground rules and precedents that will resolve the treaty's outstanding ambiguities.

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