Mexican authorities and retailers commit to protect ornamental plant breeders rights
In a new agreement signed between the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development and Mexico’s national retail association ANTAD, both parties commit to protect breeders rights in Mexico’s ornamental plants and flowers sector. They however need Dutch and other breeders to actively collaborate, register their varieties in Mexico and formalize contracts with buyers to make this agreement work. For Mexican growers, a new voluntary certification scheme is being developed with which they can prove compliance with obligations deriving from breeders rights regulations.
Respect for breeders rights in Mexico’s ornamental plants and flowers sector has been a thorny issue for plant breeders, including breeders from The Netherlands, who are wary of so-called ‘piracy’ (illegal multiplication) of their propagation material by Mexican producers. As a result, they often refrain from sending their best ornamental varieties to Mexico. This actually hampers the development of Mexico’s ornamental sector, and also limits the sector’s export opportunities.
In an effort to counter this phenomenon, the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development and Mexico’s national retail association ANTAD signed an agreement in May, in which they commit to combat illegal trade in the ornamental sector and to promote quality seeds, respect for plant breeders’ right (without compromising on the need to preserve and care for native Mexican genetic material and communities). Through the agreement they aim at increasing the availability of innovative varieties in the Mexican market in a way that benefits all actors in the ornamental plants and flowers chain, from plant breeders to ornamental growers and end consumers.
The agreement is an important step in the right direction, as it commits Mexico’s important formal retail segment to purchase flowers and plants that were produced legally, that is with respect for breeders’ rights and with all due royalties paid.
“Mexico’s ornamental sector is an important one for Mexico. Mexico has the world’s third largest ornamental production area, and some 25.000 ornamental growers are active in this sector”, says Santiago Argüello, Director-General Agricultural Promotion at Mexico’s Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development, in a reaction to the signing of the agreement. “Over the years we have seen a 10% year-on-year decline in breeders rights titles’ applications for roses, our most important cut flower. This is having a negative effect on the competitiveness of our growers. We believe it is important that breeders who invest money, time and effort in developing new and better plant varieties, whether they are Mexican or from abroad, see a return on their investment. That’s why we find it important to respect the intellectual property rights through the application and enforcement of the norms and regulations. That is the only way our growers can get access to the innovative varieties that the market demands”.
"We believe it is important that breeders who invest money, time and effort in developing new and better plant varieties, whether they are Mexican or from abroad, see a return on their investment". - Santiago Argüello
Mexican authorities and retailers are currently working on an action plan to operationalize the agreement. This action plan is likely to include training for Mexican growers to help them become more competitive and integrate them in the formal retail supply chains. It will also include actions to raise the awareness among growers of the importance of using new and innovative varieties and certified seeds and bulbs, and payment royalties. The Ministry is also promoting the establishment of a traceability systems that can trace the origin of ornamental plants and flowers in the Mexican market.
Both Mexican authorities and private market players observe a growing awareness among Mexican producers of the importance of respecting breeders’ rights, as well as a willingness among them to pay royalties for innovative materials that generate added value for all actors of the supply chain, especially end consumers. However, they also point to the responsibility of breeders: “It is primarily the responsibility of breeders to defend their rights. This goes from ensuring the validity of their breeders’ titles, to signing proper contracts with producers. We have seen that often such contracts are not in place. This is something in which we as authorities can facilitate, for instance through Contract Farming schemes”,says Argüello.
SNICS (the National Seed Inspection and Certification Service) is the authority responsible for enforcing breeders rights in Mexico, and was closely involved in the agreement. It is currently developing an action plan to strengthen its own inspection capacities and to improve its internal procedures to better protect breeders rights and to maintain control of the seed production in Mexico. “For us to be able to do that, we need the collaboration of breeders”, says Leobigildo Córdoba, its Director-General. “It is important that breeders sign contracts with their clients. We get very few official complaints from breeders about infringements of their rights, on average only two per year. When we investigate these complaints, we see that often no legal sales contracts are in place. At SNICS, we have sample contracts that we can put at the disposal of breeders, and that contain the right terminology that effectively regulates the use and multiplication of the breeder’s propagation material”. Córdoba also emphasizes the importance that breeders register their propagation material at the National Catalogue of Plant Varieties. Once a variety is registered in the National Catalogue, its propagation material is ‘certified’, and its multiplication is strictly controlled by SNICS, according to the Mexican Federal Law on Production, Certification and Trade of Seeds.
“It is important that breeders sign contracts with their clients. We get very few official complaints from breeders about infringements of their rights, on average only two per year (...)" - Leobigildo Córdoba
Such recommendations are echoed by Claudia Lee, who represents a number of Dutch breeders in Mexico and serves growers across Mexico at leading ornamental distributor AKIKO: “Breeders need to register their varieties in Mexico. If they are not registered, there is no way to enforce the law in case of conflicts. It is also important that breeders review and formalize their contracts and make sure they are aligned with the Mexican law. Finally, they should be very clear who is and who isn’t authorized to charge the royalties from Mexican producers”.
Córdoba recommends ornamental plant breeders to follow the example of Mexico’s berry sector, which has seen enormous growth over the last years. In this sector, where contract farming is widespread, breeders maintain a strict control of the use of their varieties, as they are formally embedded in the chain at various levels: "They not only provide the propagation material to producers, but also often buy the produce after harvest”, according to Córdoba.
In order for the agreement to work, both the Ministry and SNICS foresee the need for a proper traceability and certification system that can guarantee the legal provenance of ornamental plants and flowers on the Mexican market. One such system is FLOREGAL, a new Mexican certification scheme that was recently launched and certifies ornamental growers who can not only prove the legal provenance of their propagation material but also compliance with quality, phytosanitary, environmental and social sustainability standards. Jan de Lange, a Dutchman living in Mexico, is one of the initiators of FLOREGAL. He expects a lot of interest in the FLOREGAL label, now that Mexico’s formal retail players will require their ornamental suppliers to protect breeders rights. “We just certified the first Mexican grower, and will soon start approaching new growers and explain them the benefits of getting certified”. Floregal also offers services to breeders who are or want to become active on the Mexican market, such as intellectual property management, import management and legal advice.
Are you a Dutch breeder and do you want to know more about the developments described above, please do not hesitate to contact the Agricultural Team at the Netherlands Embassy in Mexico-City. We will gladly help you find your way in the Mexican market.