January 6, 2010

Myth 6: The Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement requires all World Trade Organization (WTO) members’ laws to meet minimum international standards for protecting IP rights. The TRIPS Agreement, however, unfairly imposed

Fact:  To begin, the WTO is not imposed on countries, and no government is forced to sign its agreements—TRIPS or otherwise. Rather, countries choose to belong to the WTO and participate in its various rules, requirements and agreements because they view membership as overwhelmingly in their best economic self interest. Further, each and every one of the WTO’s rules and agreements is negotiated, agreed to by consensus, and ratified by Member governments. 

Additionally, under the premise that all nations may not yet meet the IP standards of developed countries, developing countries freely negotiated (and received) significant “transition periods” to implement their TRIPS obligations. They were also granted substantial benefits under “special and differential treatment” rules in several WTO agreements, and were permitted numerous flexibilities, limitations and exceptions to IP rights that are not necessarily available to developed countries. 

Recognizing the value of IP rights and protections to advancing global economic growth and development, membership in the WTO requires countries to implement and abide by certain minimum standards for the protection of copyright, patent, trademark and other IP rights. As such, the TRIPS Agreement is one of the fundamental pillars of a country’s ascension to the WTO, and an integral part of today’s free, open, and rules-based multilateral trading system.

In today’s global marketplace, businesses of all sizes rely on foreign markets to grow. And most countries welcome these new products and services as a way to advance their own development and welfare.  As businesses look toward emerging economies for new markets, a country’s membership in the WTO is a tell-tale sign of its commitment to these rules of the game. More often than not, firms will avoid countries with little or no protection of IP rights and shift exports to more IP-friendly markets.

The bottom line is that appropriately implemented trade policies and IP protections provide emerging economies with the opportunity to advance their own development, increase their internal capacity to become more innovative, and take constructive steps toward poverty reduction and economic opportunity.  Developing countries negotiated a good and fair deal under the WTO that accommodated their special circumstances while still preserving the fundamental principles underlying the tenets of free trade and IP rights that have served the international community well for generations.

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