Plant variety protection & UPOV 1991 in the European Union’s Trade Policy: Rationale, effects & state of play


This research paper aims to identify the extent of the offensive efforts carried out by the European Union (“EU”) in the trade policy pursued by European Commission officials around the globe, advo­cating the adoption of formalised and strong plant variety protection in trade partners’ national laws.
Because of the negative effects on local seed systems, APBREBES and Both Ends are demanding the EU  to stop requiring developing countries to adopt the 1991 Act of the UPOV Convention through trade agreements or any other activ­ities.

After describing the general principles behind the UPOV system, the paper analyses the arguments brought forward by the EU institutions and other stakeholders to justify the integration of UPOV 1991 in free trade agreements (“FTAs”), confronting them to counterarguments on the detrimental effects of the Convention on local seed systems, as well as issues linked to policy coherence. It then renders a detailed review of the state of play of the negotiations of different trade and association agreements that are currently in force or under negotiation, with specific regards to the level of plant variety protection required in their provisions. The research also provides a non-exhaustive yet representative set of examples of soft-law promotion efforts by the EU.

All countries need the full flexibility when drafting their seed and plant breeders’ rights laws to promote a truly sustainable agriculture, agricultural biodiversity, and food security. No trade agreement should prevent them from designing a legal system that both protects breeders’ innovation and enshrines farmers’ rights to support the farmer seed system and its capacity for innovation, adapted to local conditions and needs.