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[BANGKOK] Thailand has suspended a regulation intended to protect the country's plant varieties after angry opposition from plant breeders.

The regulation, which was originally announced in the 1999 Plant Varieties Protection Act but not enforced, requires plant breeders to ask for government permission to use wild varieties and some domestic varieties for commercial seed development. It also requires them to register any new varieties and make benefit-sharing agreements with the government over them.

But plant breeders, led by the Thai Seed Trade Association (TSTA), say the definition of domestic plants that will become government property is too broad and will discourage R&D and affect trade.

The regulation, which came into effect in January this year, was due for enforcement with the agriculture department’s notice outlining benefit-sharing procedures two months ago. But it was suspended when plant breeders demanded that the term 'general domestic plant variety' be redefined to include only those that originate in the country.

Currently, private breeders own newly developed plant varieties, communities own domestic varieties found locally if they register them, and the government owns wild varieties and any other domestic plants.

Under the new regulations, private plant breeders must register new varieties before owning them and the government would automatically own all domestic plants.

TSTA president Pachoke Pongpanich told SciDev.Net that the act is like a time bomb for the country's private plant breeders, destroying their rights over new varieties.

It means that plants kept by private breeders but not registered for fear of releasing trade secrets will now belong to the government, Pongpanich said, forcing breeders to ask for permission to access their own plants and making them share profits with the government.

Jirakorn Kosaisawe, head of Thailand's agriculture department, told SciDev.Net that he is considering the breeders' demands and will meet them to discuss the best way forward.

"The law is good in principle as it provides a clear directive for plant variety protection, but if it cannot really be enforced, it may need some fixes," he said.

Buntoon Srethasirote, coordinator of the Multilateral Environmental Agreements Knowledge and Strategic Development Think Tank Project, said the act was drafted in line with the Convention on Biological Diversity and that removing privately held plants from the act would leave them unregulated.

"This can create a serious issue relating to plant variety protection in the long run," said Srethasirote, suggesting that the issue could be resolved by allowing exemptions on benefit sharing on certain plant varieties.