ARGENTINA: Argentina to Take Legal Action Against U.S. Biotech Giant Monsanto in Spain

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Argentina will take legal action against Monsanto in Spain and in other European nations if the U.S. biotechnology giant continues to block Argentine soy shipments from reaching European Union markets, an Argentine Agriculture Secretariat official said.

"What Monsanto is doing has no legal grounds whatsoever," she told BNA May 22 after the U.S. firm, locked in a bitter dispute with Argentina over unpaid royalties for its genetically modified soy seeds, managed to stop several ships from downloading their cargo in Spanish ports over the past few weeks.

In recent months the company managed to have courts seize Argentine soy byproducts in Spain, Britain, Denmark, and the Netherlands. "We will take legal action in Spain and wherever is needed in order to defend our legitimate interests," said the official, who asked not to be named.

She added Argentina has already been accepted by Danish and Dutch courts as "third party involved" after Monsanto--unable to collect royalties from Argentine producers and traders--litigated against importers of Argentine soy products at destination point. As an involved third party, Argentina can play an active role in court, championing the importers' cause, she said.

Argentina is the world's No. 3 soybean exporter behind the United States and Brazil, and 95 percent of it comes from Monsanto seed. The company says it is losing hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid royalties.

But the Agriculture Secretariat official said most shipments arriving in Europe were of soymeal and other soy byproducts, which are not covered by patents related strictly to the seed.

Besides, the deadline for Monsanto to apply for copyright protection in Argentina expired eight years ago, one year after it first introduced the "Roundup Ready" (RR) seed, so-called because it has been genetically modified to resist Monsanto's own Roundup weed-killer.

European Legal Action

The company started to take legal action in Europe in 2005 after more than two years of fruitless attempts to have Argentine authorities clamp down on an a widespread black market of the seed. The illegal trade means that only 20 percent of the soybean planted in Argentina comes from certified seed, Monsanto complains.

RR seed has patent protection in many countries, including those of the European Union, but Monsanto has failed to get it in Argentina. The firm says its current legal strategy is focused on asserting its patent rights on Argentine seed rather than on actually collecting money from seized consignments, although it has reserved the right to demand $15 per metric ton of Argentine soybean shipments.

The government has in the past promised to create a special fund to compensate Monsanto, but the project got stuck in Congress where it met resistance from farm lobbies. Farmers have in the past recognized Monsanto's right to seek royalties, but decry what they call its bully tactics, with the powerful Argentine Rural Society condemning its "trampling and monopolistic stance."

Soybeans are the single largest hard-currency earner for Argentina and its exports are heavily taxed, making it a key tool in the government's effort to put the country back on its feet again following a 4-1/2-year-long economic slump.

In a recent speech, Agriculture Secretary Miguel Campos called on Argentines to unite in the fight against Monsanto. "We must not be afraid to defend ourselves," he said. "Not just the government, but all Argentines. Let's bear in mind that our country is now emerging from a deep crisis and that soy is a source of riches and a key helper in the fight against poverty."

AMP Section Name:Food and Agriculture
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