The Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (Organização do Tratado de Cooperação Amazônica) (OTCA), which met at the foreign minister level in Manaus, in northern Brazil, this week, says it is studying the possibility of inviting countries outside the region to join the organization as observers.
The eight members of the OTCA are looking for countries that have a genuine interest in the Amazon region. According to Brazilian Foreign Minister, Celso Amorim, one candidate is France because of its links with French Guiana.
Amorim says that the main topic of discussion at the meeting was Amazon security and the question of biopiracy.
Traditional knowledge of local inhabitants should be considered a source of wealth for local inhabitants, said Amorim as he pointed out that many Amazon products are registered trademarks abroad.
“We have to protect our intellectual property,” said the minister.
Manoel Rodrigues, the Peruvian Foreign Minister, declared that sustainable development in the Amazon had to focus on the local population. He also urged the participants to act with what he called responsible sovereignty.
The OTCA meeting came to an end with the organization’s secretary-general, Rosalia Arteaga, calling for the harmonization of legislation dealing with the Amazon.
The next OTCA meeting is scheduled for September 2005 in Iquitos, which is located, like Manaus, on the Amazon River.
Native products and genuinely Brazilian natural resources end up being licensed commercially by other countries. With its extensive borders, precarious surveillance, and poor populations in the regions of greatest biodiversity, Brazil becomes an easy prey to bio-piracy.
Last year, the head of Itamaraty’s (Foreign Ministry) Division of Trade Policy, Piragibe Tarragô, met with representatives of the Ministry of Environment’s Amazon Work Group (GTA) and legislators from states of Amazonas, Acre, and Pará, to exchange information about the steps that the federal and state governments are taking to combat bio-piracy and the improper appropriation of Brazilian raw materials by some European countries, the United States, and Japan.
Special attention was paid to the commercial licensing of the cupuaçu fruit by a Japanese firm, Cupuaçu International Inc.
Bio-piracy consists in the appropriation and monopolization of knowledge belonging to traditional communities with respect to the use of natural resources.
This is not a new situation in the Amazon region. In recent years, as a result of advances in biotechnology, facilities in the international context for the registration of trademarks and patents, and international agreements on intellectual property, such as the treaty on Intellectual Property Rights Related to International Trade (TRIPs), the opportunities for this type of exploitation have multiplied.
In the Cupuaçu case, the GTA filed an administrative suit in Japan against Asahi Foods and its subsidiary, Cupuaçu International Inc. According to Tarragô, the Brazilian government is supporting the initiatives of these sectors to invalidate trademarks in these countries.
Tarragô stated that the solution to bio-piracy depends upon a coordinated action by various Executive organs, especially the Ministries of Environment, Development, and Agriculture, regional institutions in the Amazon area, and the legislature, to create, in the first place, adequate legislation to protect the country against the improper licensing of native products and traditional knowledge belonging to communities in Amazônia.
Second of all, he added, to extend Brazilian initiatives to international forums, so that Brazilian efforts on behalf of this type of protection can gain multilateral settings.
“It is important that all countries unite for the rules to protect native products, biodiversity, and traditional knowledge to be respected,” he said.
Brazil wants patents for products or processes derived from genetic resources or traditional knowledge not only to comply with the three conditions required by the law (novelty, inventability, and industrial applicability) but also to adhere to the division of benefits with communities in the states of origin, prior and well-disseminated communication with the communities, and, finally, the identification of the origin and the material.