Guatemalan Congress repeals plant variety rights law

By Shawn Sullivan

Amid protest and fears that traditional and indigenous farming practices may be disrupted, Guatemala has repealed its law on plant variety rights.

The Congress of the Republic of Guatemala has voted to repeal in its entirety the Law for the Protection of Plant Variety Rights that it approved less than three months ago. (see Congreso de la República aprueba de urgencia nacional derogatoria del Decreto 19-2014).

When Guatemala became a signatory to the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement, it agreed to accede to or ratify the 1991 Act of the International Convention for the Protection of Plant Varieties (the UPOV Convention).

The UPOV Convention requires member states to grant plant variety rights (also known as plant breeders’ rights or plant variety protection) – a special form of intellectual property rights–to persons who breed new varieties of plants that are distinct, uniform, and stable.

The Law for the Protection of Plant Varieties, enacted with 82 votes on June 10, 2014, represented Guatemala’s effort to enact UPOV-compliant legislation.

The law granted plant breeders exclusive rights – for 25 years in the case of trees and vines and 20 years for other plant species – regarding the marketing, sale, and other commercial acts relating to seeds of novel plant varieties registered with the government.

Legislators passed the plant variety rights law without a prior public debate. At the time, national attention was focused on the 2014 World Cup, which was underway in Brazil. However, shortly after the law was enacted, lawmakers came under intense pressure to reform or repeal the measure.

A variety of labor unions, indigenous community organizations, and other critics opposed to the law expressed fears that it would lead to the privatization of the national seed supply, concentration of agricultural production in the hands of multinational companies, erosion of food sovereignty, and the disruption of traditional and indigenous farming practices. (see Campesinos guatemaltecos lograron derogación de ley Monsanto, Telesur).

In protests against the legislation earlier this week, demonstrators closed sections of the Pan-American Highway, one of the country’s central transportation arteries.

A press release posted on the official website of the Congress characterized the decision of the 117 congressmen and congresswomen who voted to repeal the law as an action for “the common good of the Guatemalan population”.

According to one news source, Congressman Flavio José Yojcom García voted in favor of the law in June but supported its repeal today, explaining that “To err is human”.

About the author

Shawn Sullivan
Shawn is general counsel to the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), ILSI Research Foundation, ILSI North America, and the ILSI Health and Environmental Sciences Institute. Based in Washington, D.C., he also runs a limited private practice in areas that include nonprofit law, negotiations, contract law, international business, technology transactions, and corporate law. Shawn may be contacted at sullivan[at]sullivanlaw.net.