UPOV Convention: Being party is not a requirement to conclude a free trade agreement with Switzerland
The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO has received various letters from Switzerland and abroad expressing important concerns on the part of farmers in countries in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and especially in Malaysia. SECO has taken note of these concerns and sets out Switzerland's position on these issues as follows:
All WTO members are obliged under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement to guarantee the protection of plant varieties, either by patents or by a separate system. The International Convention of the Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV Convention) is the most common specific agreement regulating such protection. A number of developing countries are also party of UPOV. It is therefore logical for the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) to propose to refer to the UPOV Convention for the substantive regulation of plant variety protection in Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).
However, EFTA and Switzerland do not make accession to the UPOV a prerequisite for the conclusion of an FTA. The aim of any agreement negotiated by Switzerland is to create the best possible solution for all parties concerned. Switzerland and the other EFTA states are therefore open to finding individual alternative solutions with partner countries, if necessary, which go beyond the farmer's privilege possible under the UPOV Convention and take into account the situation of farmers in the partner countries. This has been done, for example, in the recently concluded negotiations with Indonesia and the Philippines.
It should also be noted in particular that the UPOV Convention only regulates the protection of new varieties, but not farmers' traditional varieties. The availability of suitable seeds for farmers depends on a number of other factors that are independent of intellectual property discussions. This applies both in Switzerland and in the respective partner countries.
With regard to the contradiction between the UPOV Convention and the Swiss signature of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas, as claimed in the received letters, it should be noted that, in Switzerland's view, there is no such contradiction. Switzerland declared when it adopted the UN Declaration, that it interprets it in accordance with applicable national and international law (i.e. including the provisions of the UPOV Convention).
Finally, it should be noted that Switzerland, as an innovative country with an important research sector, is also interested in appropriate protection of intellectual property rights in partner countries. This includes plant variety protection, which creates an incentive for innovation, and therefore contributes to the availability of new varieties adapted to changing local conditions.
This position has already been explained to the organizations behind the Coalition for the rights to seeds (Koalition Recht auf Saatgut). We are committed to continuing the dialogue with all interested stakeholders.