A vital bill relating to country’s under-performing agriculture was discussed by parliamentarians on Monday, almost 12 years after the draft was finalized.

The initial draft of the bill ‘Plant Breeders’ Rights Bill’ had been prepared in 2003 in order to grant proprietary rights to local and foreign seed companies for developing potentially high-yielding plant varieties and to give them legal protection against commercial exploitation of their products.

Pakistan, being member of World Trade Organisation, is required to provide such rights to the breeders of new plant varieties under Article 27.3 (b) of Trade Related Aspect of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIP) Agreement.

At present, this protection is available in as many as 74 countries under the Convention of International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants or UPOV.

Members of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Cabinet Secretariat were stunned when Federal Minister for Food and Agriculture Sikandar Hayat Bosan informed that the bill, to be tabled in the lower house, had been proposed some 12 years back.

“Why such an important legislation fell victim to the criminal negligence of authorities concerned? Pakistan’s agri-based economy, particularly farmers, cannot progress without any legal protection to seed industry,” MNA Asad Umar said.

The committee meeting, under the chair of PML-N’s MNA Rana Muhammad Hayat Khan, expressed its anger over the inordinate delay in approving the bill from National Assembly. Hayat Khan said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has personally directed that the bill should be submitted before National Assembly in next session.

Secretary Food and Agriculture told the 20-member committee that the bill could not see light of the day because the draft was hushed up in offices. “Bureaucracy can make a draft only. It is up to the parliamentarians to make it a law,” he said.

Representatives of provinces and owners of national and multinational seed companies had also been invited to attend the meeting and give their inputs on the proposed bill.

It was noted that foreign companies do not invest in seed sector in Pakistan as they lack legal protection against the exploitation of their products. They said the bill should be passed so that foreign companies invest in country and contribute to agriculture sector.

Nadeem Zafar Mirza, Country Manager of US-based Pioneer Pakistan Seed Limited, informed the committee that his firm was working on hybrid seeds only because the lack of required law exposed his company’s technology to be stolen by competitors.

“Once we get the proprietary rights, Pakistan will not need to import quality seed from other countries because we can produce the seed locally. What troubles us is the lack of law. Grant us the rights and we will give you the best yielding seeds,” Mirza told the meeting.

He argued his firm was developing hybrid seeds as these products were high-yielding on first time use. “At the moment we cannot develop seeds of wheat, rice, cotton and other crop only because we are not given the technology by our firm, a multinational, due to lack of legal protection,” he added.

But a representative from Sindh was the only official who spoke about the negative implications of giving proprietary rights to foreign companies, arguing the multi-national companies will invade the seed market and outsmart the local manufacturers.

“Should we wait for complete destruction of our agriculture at the hands of local seed companies? We have to table the bill before National Assembly because. I am also a farmer and I have witnessed the worst experience,” MNA Rana Hayat intervened.

It was informed on the occasion that the bill was forwarded to Law Division after it was forwarded by Prime Minsiter on May 8, 2014 due to pressure, as Pakistan was supposed to comply with the international obligations.

The committee members were unanimous in forwarding the bill to the lower house. However, PTI’s Asad Umar said representatives of farmers associations in the country should also be invited for discussion first. Next meeting will be held on Tuesday in Ministry of Food and Agriculture.