Progress needed on global regime for access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing

Biodiversity Convention meets in Granada, Spain

Officials from the 188 members of the Convention on Biological Diversity are urged to make progress in defining a global regime on access to genetic resources and benefit sharing as they resume negotiations at a one-week meeting in Granada Spain from 30 January to 3 February.

The talks are based upon the notion that by granting a company or organization access to its genetic resources (such as plants that can be used to produce new pharmaceuticals or fragrances), a country or indigenous or local community will in return receive a fair share of the profits or other benefits.

"My hope is that this meeting in Granada will mark a turning point in the negotiations and will thus be remembered as the one during which all countries decided to roll up their sleeves and achieve a breakthrough in the negotiations", said Ahmed Djoghlaf, the Convention's Executive Secretary.

The Convention on Biological Diversity recognizes the sovereign right of States over their genetic resources and the need to find a balance between providing access to those resources and ensuring the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from their use.

It also notes that access to genetic resources should be governed by the principle of "prior informed consent" and that benefits should be distributed on the basis of "mutually agreed terms."

The meeting in Spain is the second negotiating session dealing with international regulations on access to genetic resources and the sharing of benefits. Delegates to the first talks, held in Bangkok in February of last year, identified and discussed a broad range of options for the scope and potential objectives of this global regime, including new concepts such as a certificate of origin and the disclosure of origin in applications for intellectual property rights.

"Uncertainty is a serious disincentive for business and a major obstacle for long term investment" stated Dr. Djoghlaf. "The current uncertainty surrounding the whole issue of access to genetic resources and the sharing of benefits is prejudicial to both providers and users of genetic resources."

He added that "A mutually agreed lasting solution is in the interest of all parties concerned. It is also a powerful instrument for fighting poverty in poor countries endowed with tremendous biological resources. It is for this reason that it can contribute to the achievement of lasting peace and security as well as to the realization of shared prosperity for all the World."

The current uncertainty surrounding the issue of access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing creates conditions prejudicial to both providers and users. Developing countries, as providers, are concerned about what they regard as the misappropriation of their genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge. Users are concerned by the absence of clear rules for access to these resources and knowledge.

The Parties to the Convention have already approved the 2002 "Bonn Guidelines," which advise governments on how to set fair and practical conditions for users seeking genetic resources. In return, these users must offer benefits such as profits, royalties, scientific collaboration, or training.

Until recently, all plants, animals and microorganisms were considered to be part of the common heritage of humankind. Foreign prospectors felt free to take biological resources from any country and use them to develop drugs and other commercial products.

The resulting products would be sold by foreign companies under the protection of patents or other intellectual property rights. Meanwhile, the country of origin often from the developing world, where most biodiversity is found would receive no benefit from the commercial exploitation of its resources.

The decision to negotiate an international regime on access and benefit-sharing was adopted in response to the call for action by heads of states at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002.

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Note to journalists:
What: FOURTH MEETING OF THE AD HOC OPEN-ENDED WORKING GROUP ON ACCESS AND BENEFIT- SHARING
Where: Palacio de Exposiciones y Congresos de Granada, Paseo del Violon s/n 18006 Granada, Spain
When: 30 January to 3 February 2006
Accreditation: http://www.biodiv.org/programmes/outreach/press/acreditations.asp
Documents: http://www.biodiv.org/doc/meeting.aspx?mtg=ABSWG-04
Contact: David Ainsworth, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity 514-287-7025; mobile 514-833-0196; email david.ainsworth@biodiv.org


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