Mittwoch, Oktober 26, 2005

The Worst Possible Protectionism...

Let's be blunt: protectionism is not only a bad idea, it really annoys consumers as well, when they realize that they've been footing the bill for incompetent managers in companies that are better at political lobbying than actually making something.

But this move by the French, hidden as an initiative of the European Commission, really pushes the limit.

Not content to emotionally demonize biotechnology (unless, of course, it's done by French companies), the European Commission want to require disclosure obligations for biotechnology patents. In other words, if you engineer a new bacteria via genetic modification (GM) that, say, combines a gene from a primitive tomato plant in Belize with the gene of a sloth from Madagascar (no idea whether either of these exist) in order to make for a new strain of tomato plants that move really, really slowly, then you need to include the documentation of both genomes in the patent application.

What's wrong with this, you say?

Two things.

First, there will be massive pressures - no, there are massiv pressures - on developing countries from the EU to forbid any connection with biotech products in order not to lose foreign aid from the EU: if a country fails to do this, then the EU has made it clear that it will require genetic testing of any goods from that country to ensure that they aren't "tainted" with genetically modified plants in the interest of keeping the EU "GM free". This will mean not only no development in these countries, but further the probability that if Belize doesn't want you using that tomato plant, then you'll not be able to use it. Or more exactly, Belize will want such high royalty payments for your use of that tomato plant - indigenous to Belize - that you won't be able to make any money on selling the rights for farmers to use that tomato plant.

Second, pushing this means that if you are a Third-World country trying to find a way to produce food to feed your growing population - hey, that's all of them - then you're gonna have a really hard time financing not only the actually biotech work, but more critically the legal framework that will allow you to develop that wandering tomato plant that will deliver perfectly ripe tomatoes to market without having to transport them there (ok, ok: it's just my hypothetical example. The real world examples are actually meaningful and desperately needed).

In other words, unable to convince countries like Brazil, Jordan, South Africa, Egypt and China that GM is the devil seed - unsurprising, given that even the EU admits there is no scientific basis for their ban on GM products - the EU is now trying to hide a virtual ban on further GM development in a move that makes it look like they are "protecting" resources that are being commercially exploited elsewhere. Not that the resources are actually exploited: we're talking industrial production here, not strip-mining natural resources elsewhere (indeed, the industrial production of GM may well mean that the resources elsewhere won't be cut down willy-nilly in order to find those rare Madagascar Sloths (I googled: there is a madagascar lemur sloth), who turn out to be some sort of aphrodisiac when eaten with tomatoes (again, disclaimer: ain't true, it's just my example).

This in and of itself is fairly perfidious: the goal, however, is worse. The EU wants to kill the developing biotech industries in these countries. And not to protect their own GM industry (at least that I could understand), but in order to prevent these countries from finding ways out of their economic traps of low valued added coupled with high population growth rates.

And that is, plain and simple, the worst possible protectionism. What the EU is doing here - sorry, the French - is trying to enforce the right of a Frenchman to buy non-genetically modified food at the cost of continuing poverty and malnutrition in any number of developing countries.

Never mind that there is no scientific proof; never mind the human cost; never mind the lost potential of economic growth in developing countries; never mind the absurdity of it all.

As long as the European obsession with stopping GM - can I repeat that there is no scientific basis for the objection? - is more than willing to not merely accept that millions will be condemned to poverty, but rather actively support that they will remain in poverty, that's how long the further decline of the EU will continue.

Susan Kling Finston wrote the article linked to above. She's with the Institute for Policy Innovation. She's an intellectual property rights expert, from what I can see, and she has, for me, the killer quote:

" nationality has a monopoly on good ideas."

Damn right. The problem with the EU is that they think that if they can't have a monopoly on good ideas, no one else is allowed to have any good ideas any more, unless the EU says it's okay to do so.

And that is the worst protectionism ever.

Keine Kommentare: