CBD Parties agree to meet before Nagoya to “finalize” draft Protocol on access to genetic resources and benefit sharing (ABS).
Another week of the Resumed Ninth Meeting of the Working Group on Access and Benefit sharing of the Convention on Biological Diversity is over and even though the general spirit among the negotiators in Montreal has been positive, the outcome of the talks is mixed.
On the one hand, important progress was made in Montreal. Following a full week of long-awaited negotiations, the delegates managed to agree on their own version of the draft Co-Chairs ABS Protocol. But on the other hand, there are still a number of critical issues which need to be agreed. These include the temporal and substantive scope of the protocol, the relationship with other international instruments and processes, definition of ways of utilizing genetic resources instead of direct references to derivatives, facilitated access in cases of non-commercial research as well as emergency situations, regulation of misappropriation and agreement on compliance instruments and traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources. Compromises on these key issues have led to concerns about the possibility of brokering a deal before Ministers give the protocol its final push at the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP10) this October in Japan.
An international ABS protocol under the Convention on Biological Diversity should provide concrete measures to ensure that ABS works in practice, for the benefit of conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. Existing experiences at regional, national and local levels should be taken into consideration in the design of flexible measures.
The basic building blocks of the international ABS regime need to respond to the key concerns of countries of origin/ provider and user countries.
Firstly, users need clear, transparent and efficient ABS legislation and administrative frameworks which facilitate access to genetic resources and traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources, and provide legal certainty. The regime would thus benefit from a list of clear access criteria that need to be implemented by all Parties.
Secondly, countries of origin or provider countries have an interest in fair and equitable benefit sharing as well as general compliance with their national ABS regimes. Compliance with national ABS regimes could be supported through modern tracking and monitoring systems, as well as mandatory actions of user countries, including flexible checkpoints, to prevent the acquisition and utilization of genetic resources and traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources in violation of national ABS legislation of the country of origin/ the provider country.
Thirdly, the future ratification and practical implementation of the ABS Protocol will depend on its successful harmonization with specialized agreements (such as the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, or the UPOV Convention), as well as with other ongoing ABS-related processes (such as developments under the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention, the World Health Organization, or the World Intellectual Property Organization and its Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore). Indeed, such harmonization must close potential gaps in the CBD’s ABS regime rather than create loopholes.
Parties agreed to meet again in the form of the inter-regional negotiating group (ING) in September. If the resumed ABS meeting continues with the constructiveness that characterized discussions in Montreal, an ABS Protocol might see the light of day at the Conference of the Parties in Nagoya.