Govt opens consultation for Plant Variety Rights law

By Talisa Kupenga

The government has opened public consultation over the Plant Variety Rights law, which regulates intellectual property protection over new plant varieties.

Māori law expert Moana Jackson says while it's a start, more needs to be done to address the core issues for Māori in the intellectual property space.

More than 25 years after the Wai 262 Flora and Fauna claim, Māori could have more certainty around ownership of their taonga.

Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi says, "getting this right is important not only for their economic future but also culturally and spiritually having recognition of what they own in terms of cultural knowledge but also in terms of the plant varieties that they may claim a stake to as well."

Indigenous law expert Moana Jackson says, "That alone is not enough that does not address the cultural issues that Māori have been discussing ever since the claim was laid to the Waitangi Tribunal but it's more than has been done by the Crown in the last 20 years so if one wants to take heart from that."

A plant variety rights grant for a new variety provides exclusive rights to produce for sale and to sell propagating material of the variety.  Jackson says the law is contrary to tikanga Māori because it assumes someone can own the essence of a plant.

Jackson says, "That is not part of the Māori worldview, there is a different relationship with plants, but that approach is inherent in the new TPPA agreement and all the international trade agreements where things are reduced to property rights and so everything becomes an asset rather than a taonga."

NZ has obligations under the CPTPP to update its regime and meet international standards for plant variety rights protection." 

The government also negotiated a specific exception to be able to adopt any policy it considers necessary to give effect to Treaty of Waitangi obligations.

Faafoi says, "I think giving them some certainty as to what rights they have both spiritual and also I guess in terms of the rights of monetising something like that is really important so we need to nail that down before we get into the final stages of CPTPP."

Consultation ends December 21.