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Mandarin royalties to Japan could cost Jeju farmers 1 billion won
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승인 2012.02.24  13:40:48
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This is the first of a two-part report on the royalties certain Korean farmers are facing now, particularly Jeju citrus farmers. In the next issue of The Weekly, reporter Angela Kim will detail some suggestions experts have for farmers and explain how the government plans to minimize any negative impact. — Ed.

▲ As of Jan. 7, 2012, all plant genera or species will be registered under plant variety protection. This could cause Jeju mandarin farmers to pay royalties upwards of 1 billion won. Photo by Cho Gyewon

On Jan. 7, 2002, South Korea became the 50th member of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). Upon joining the union, member countries — which are bound by the Act of 1991 — are asked to register a minimum of 15 plants with UPOV and all applicable plant genera or species within 10 years.

From 1998 and the enactment of the Seed Industry Law, Korea gradually extended its application of plant variety protection. By 2009, this left six plants exempt — the strawberry, the raspberry, the mandarin (Citrus unshiu Marcow), the blueberry, the gean (Western cherry), and seaweed as per national requirements. But on Jan. 7, 2012, Korea Seed & Variety Service (KSVS) added these six to plant variety protection, as per the provisions of UPOV conventions.

Out of 50,000 farmers on Jeju, about 60 percent grow citrus. About 98 percent of all citrus crops grown here are varieties developed in Japan. Most of these crops (95 percent) are of the Citrus unshiu Marcow variety, commonly known as the mandarin, and the remaining 5 percent fall under the category of citrus hybrids like Hallabong, Redhyang, and others.

On Feb. 8, the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province Agricultural Research and Extension Services held a symposium to discuss strategies for dealing with mandarins being classed under plant variety protection.

“Since 2002, only flowers, like roses and orchids, were at the center of the royalty dispute,” said Park Young Chul, a researcher at the Citrus Breeding Center within the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province Agricultural Research and Extension Services. “In case of vegetables, there wasn’t much of a dispute, but rather, the price slightly increased.”

According to a UPOV document, the purpose of the Seed Industry Law is “to develop seed industry and to contribute to the stability of agriculture, forestry, and fishery by enacting provisions on protection of the breeder’s right, management of variety performance of major crops, seed production, certification, marketing, etc.”

UPOV lists five requirements for new plant variety protection: novelty, distinctness, uniformity, stability, and denomination.

According to the Rural Development Administration (RDA), about 50 percent of citrus farms on Jeju have trees over 30 years old, which means they are likely to be soon replaced. The RDA estimates that if 30 percent of the old trees are replaced with ones that are under plant variety protection, Jeju farmers will be required to pay royalties totaling 1 billion won (US$900,000) within the next 10 years.

However, Yang Mi Hee, a senior researcher and examiner at KSVS, stressed that the 1 billion won figure was a “pure estimate.” In 2007, for example, she said the RDA estimated Korean rose farmers would have to pay 7.4 billion won in royalties, when in fact only one-fifth of the estimate (1.5 billion won) was eventually due.

Yang said that the estimated cost not only includes royalties paid to the holder of the breeder rights, but also for the cost of new trees. “The cost could greatly vary depending on what species farmers choose [to cultivate],” she told The Weekly in an email interview.

Contrary to popular belief, no one has to pay royalties for cultivating the iconic Jeju citrus called Hallabong. Citrus hybrids, which include Hallabong and many other citrus crops that are generally harvested later than mandarins, were included in the plant variety protection list in May of 2009. All domestic seed breeders are supposed to register their products with the KSVS within one year of active distribution or development. Foreign developers are given a six-year grace period.

Among all citrus hybrids being raised on Jeju, only Kampei and Sagakashi 34 gou species were developed less than six years ago in Japan, enabling them to register and request royalties at any time. For Citrus unshiu Marcow and the five other plants mentioned above, breeders have until Jan. 6, 2013, to file the application for breeder rights.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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