UNCTAD: When consumer interests are protected, social and economic progress follows – supporting countries to meet the SDGs
The UNCTAD has reafirmed its earlier statement made in the 2017 Report "Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals through Consumer Protection" that "consumer protection can be a major contribution to meeting the SDGs.
Many emerging technologies have the potential to make a major contribution towards achieving the SDGs across multiple areas, but require unprecedented resource mobilization, partnerships and multilateral collaboration to support transfer of technologies, development of capabilities in developing countries. The effective IPR regimes need to evolve in order to stimulate R&D, deployment and scaling up of the SDG-relevant technologies. Current ones are inadequate to these tasks. The Report underscores the importance of recognizing the need for special and differential treatment for
developing countries to facilitate sustainable development, especially in relation to the targets on technology and trade. According to the Report, the IPRs should be geared to each country’s level of development and technological capacities, especially in LDCs, to maximize incentives for innovation to the extent possible within the policy space allowed under the TRIPS Agreement.
There are important areas of tension between efforts to achieve SDGs and some aspects of current IPR protection arrangements. For example, patents for many cutting-edge technologies are held by a handful of multinational enterprises, which thus control a vast proportion of the agricultural inputs market. The need for small-scale farmers to adopt new technologies to remain competitive in global value chains creates a state of dependency on these few companies for inputs, and may also give rise to production bottlenecks unless addressed by competition laws. Agriculture – central to SDG 2, to “end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable driven, and the application of IPRs associated with biotechnology has major implications for food security. The international IPR system for patenting seeds also reinforces the concentration of the agricultural biotechnology sector in a few multinational enterprises, particularly in the seed sector, resulting in an oligopoly in the supply of inputs vital to food security. Therefore, the complex linkages between IPRs and the SDGs suggest that an exclusive focus on increasing standards of IPR protection is not the optimal way forward. Reforming the patent system appears increasingly desirable according to the authors of the Report.