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Noam Chomsky on India, GATT and Pharmaceutal Patents, and 3rd World

  >From http://www.lumpen.com/magazine/bestof/chomsky.txt
  The following is a series of question addressed to professor Noam Chomsky 
  following a lecture he delivered at the University of Illinois at Chicago on 
  October 17, 1994.
  Could you comment on the current policies of GATT, the whole notion of 
  intellectual property rights, and the effect of these policies on food 
  production in the Third World?
  That's a really important topic and in fact it was one I had hoped to talk
  about but didn't have time for.  GATT is called a free trade agreement,
  just as NAFTA was, but that's nonsense.  These things are not about free
  trade and they're certainly not agreements.  In fact most of the people in
  the world are opposed to them.  What you mentioned is an extreme case of
  that.  Intellectual property rights have to do with protectionism.  The
  U.S., and in fact the rich countries generally, have led the insistence
  that the GATT agreement, like NAFTA, include strong intellectual property
  rights.  That's protectionism.  That means increasing the power of
  patents.  Patents are protectionist devices.  They are designed to insure
  that the technology of the future is in the hands of transnational
  corporations, most of which, incidentally, you guys pay for.  Remember
  they don't believe in a free market.  They want to be publicly subsidized
  in research and development and controlled markets and so on.  The
  strength of intellectual property rights means longer patents. 
     Take India for instance.  India has a big pharmaceutical industry. 
  They can produce drugs at a fraction of the cost of what Merck wants to
  sell them for.  In fact drug prices are way lower in India than in
  Pakistan next door because India happened to develop its own
  pharmaceutical industry.  The American corporations don't like that.  They
  want more children to die in India.  It's not whether they care whether
  children die.  They want more profit, which means more children die in
  India.  They want to make sure India doesn't produce drugs at less than
  the cost of American drugs.  Now this is done in two ways under GATT.  One
  way is to increase the length of patents.  The other is to change their
  character from process patents to product patents.  That's very crucial. 
  In the past patents were process patents.  Like if Merck, thanks to your
  taxes, designed a way to produce a certain drug, and then say some smart
  guy in India figured out a cheaper way to produce that drug, that was
  allowed.  We don't want that.  We want to cut down technological
  innovation, cut back economic process, economic progress, and economic
  efficiency and increase profit.  So now they are product patents.  If
  Merck figures out a certain way to produce a drug they can hold that for
  twenty years because it's a product, and they can hold the process for
  another twenty years.  They get forty years of holding on to that drug. 
  By that time everybody's forgotten about it.  There's some history about
  this.  The developed countries like us never accepted anything like that. 
  Even weak patents on technological development weren't accepted by the
  rich countries until just a few years ago.  There was one time that I know
  of that product patents were actually tried, namely in France in the early
  part of the century that had such patents. That destroyed the French
  chemical industry.  It moved to Switzerland. So Switzerland has a big
  chemical industry and not France.  It's not a big secret.  This is
  straight history and the people who are planning GATT understand it.  They
  want to make sure that they destroy the Indian or Argentinean
  pharmaceutical industries the same way that France's dumb choices
  destroyed the French chemical industry.  The New York Times a couple of
  weeks ago had a tiny ten line item stating that India (with a gun pointed
  at its head) agreed finally to liberalize their pharmaceutical industry,
  meaning sell it to western corporations.  So drug prices will shoot sky
  high in India and children will die but there will be more profits.  Now
  this has nothing to do with free trade.  This is a high level of
  protectionism.  In fact it is specifically designed even to be contrary to
  the narrow definitions of efficiency that they teach at the University of
  Chicago Economics Department.  So it's going to cut down on technological
  innovations, efficiency and so on, but it will happen to increase profits
  by accident.  Well, that's intellectual property rights. I gave one
  example but there are plenty of others like it.  If you look over the
  whole GATT Agreement this is sort of a complicated array of protectionist
  and liberalizing devices very carefully geared to the interests of
     As far as agriculture is concerned, the way of measuring the efficiency
  of agricultural production, which like most of these measures are just
  tax-based ideology that don't have anything to do with science, is to look
  at certain inputs and outputs and you do some calculations to figure out
  what the efficiency is.  Some things are left out.  If you do the
  calculations their way the cost of environmental pollution doesn't count. 
  That's called an externality, which means they worry about it in some
  other department.  There's another one you don't count. 
     It usually turns out to be the case that heavily subsidized western
  agri- business tend to produce corn more efficiently than, say, Mexican
  peasants.  If you do a narrow measure of the highly ideological type that
  they teach you about in economics departments it will turn out to be more
  efficient for the world if American agri-business produces corn with big
  petroleum inputs than if Mexican peasants do it, but there's a few things
  left out of that calculation.  One thing that's left out is that ten to
  fifteen million Mexican peasants will be driven off the land.  They're
  going to be driven into cities where they're going to starve.  There's a
  lot of costs associated with that.  Put aside the human cost which nobody
  cares about.  Just take the straight economic costs like taking care of
  them somehow.  Well, that's somebody else's department.  We don't count
  that one in. 
     Put all this stuff together and you get particular choices.  This is a
  game of class warfare masked in big words so it sounds like science and
  mathematical formulas.  If you ask common sense questions you see all
  kinds of things are left out.  If you're sending corn to Mexico you've got
  to put it in trucks.  What about transit costs?  The purpose of these
  agreements is to ensure that agricultural production is monopolized by
  transnationals and that the third world gets nothing.  If you read the
  Indian press you may have noticed that Indian customs officials stopped
  some alleged German scientists at the border who were leaving India with
  some funny stuff in their bags, namely a couple hundred thousand bugs. 
  They didn't know what the hell they're doing with these things but we
  know.  That's the gene pool that western pharmaceutical companies are
  trying to steal from the south.  Those are their resources but we get them
  for free.  For thousands of years people in the south have been developing
  crops.  They don't own them.  They don't get any rights from that.  We
  just go in and steal them.  So they have the rich gene pool and the
  thousands of years of experience in creating hybrids and figuring out what
  herb works.  Then western corporations go in and take it for nothing, just
  check if they've got a piece of paper anywhere that says they own it,
  stamped by the authorities.  Therefore we steal it from them and it
  appears in some biology lab.  We minimally modify it and sell it to them. 
  We patent it.  It's a scam designed to rob the poor and enrich the rich,
  like most social policy.  That shouldn't surprise you.  After all, who
  made social policy?  This was a truism of Adam Smith.  The people who make
  social policy make it in their interest.  They wouldn't be in a position
  to make social policy if they weren't rich and privileged.  People suffer. 
  James Love / love@tap.org / P.O. Box 19367, Washington, DC 20036
  Voice: 202/387-8030; Fax 202/234-5176
  Center for Study of Responsive Law
     Consumer Project on Technology; http://www.essential.org/cpt
     Taxpayer Assets Project; http://www.tap.org