Government to consult on rights to plants

By Kelvin McDonald

Māori delegates at the Ngā Taonga Tuku Iho conference reacted with caution to the government’s announcement today that it plans to start public consultation on New Zealand’s plant variety rights law.

The law regulates intellectual property protection over new plant varieties.

Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi made the announcement at the second day of the inaugural conference on Māori intellectual, cultural and property rights in Nelson.

“A robust plant variety rights regime gives plant breeders intellectual property rights over new plant varieties they have developed. The certainty of those rights encourages the development and dissemination of new plant varieties.”

Against the background of WAI-262 and the subsequent Waitangi Tribunal report on the indigenous flora and fauna claim, it is not surprising that the minister chose to address Māori interests.

“I want to ensure our plant variety rights regime strikes the right balance between the interests of rights holders, Māori, farmers and growers, consumers and our wider economy so New Zealand gains maximum benefit from the regime while meeting our international and Treaty of Waitangi obligations.”

Top of the international obligations is CPTPP, the successor to TTP (the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement).

With a provision in the CPTPP which allows the government room to manoeuvre to satisfy Treaty obligations, Faafoi offered reassurance that Māori interests would be properly considered.

“Ensuring the plant variety rights regime includes adequate protection and recognition of Māori interests in the regime will be an important outcome of this review.”

Delegates who offered feedback on the announcement during a Q&A session with Faafoi and Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta included one delegate who emphasised that “Māori need to be first in the discussion” and another who cautioned that Māori have not always had a positive experience of Crown consultation.

“This kōrero around ‘consult, insult, assault’ ... I think that’s appropriate sometimes.”   

Faafoi also announced the release of a discussion document that considers whether New Zealand should require patent applicants to provide information on the origin of genetic resources or traditional knowledge used in their inventions.

Following today's announcements, government officials will hold a number of regional hui for Māori from October onwards.