Nagoya Updates: Biological Diversity Not For Sale
Mattias Ahren, representative of the Saami people from Northern Scandinavia, is in Nagoya to defend traditional knowledge in the ABS negotiations.
Photo: Winnifred Bird, who blogs for Earth Island Journal
ABS means Access and Benefit Sharing, and it may be the straw that broke the camel's back... As the Arab saying goes.
Winnifred Bird notes:
This Wednesday, while the pre-COP 10 biosafety conference was still mid-stride, a negotiating session began down the hall to finalize an Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The Protocol deals with genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge that's collected in one country and used in another (for example, the DNA of a plant from Brazil used to develop medicine in Canada). The press corps immediately moved camp to the hallway outside the meetings, which were cordoned off on the grounds that they were "highly sensitive." I followed, because those negotiations could very well determine how talks over protected areas, overfishing, and sustainable forestry turn out.
"Developing countries – and some developed countries – have been saying again and again that ABS, the Strategic Plan, and financing are an indivisible package," said Christine von Weizsacker, an NGO representative at this week's ABS negotiations. Officially, Strategic Plan negotiations and those on ABS will proceed on parallel tracks. In reality, they are linked. Think of it this way: If one of your neighbors had been sneaking onto your property, digging up your tulip bulbs, and selling them at the corner store, would you be in the mood to work with that same neighbor on a project to turn part of your backyard into a nature park?
From what I can see here in Nagoya, there is yet some small chance that a deal can be made. But it won't be easy. As Winnifred Bird quoted:
One observer reported a delegate having said, after suffering through a lengthy negotiating session, "Give me back ten years of my life," then correcting himself and saying, "Give me back my soul."
Winnifred Bird continues:
Of course, as Chee Yoke Ling of the Third World Network reminded me in a recent interview, the outcome of the ABS talks will likely impact how people in resource-rich countries use the wild plants and animals around them. "A country can be rich in biodiversity but poor economically, and therefore have an incentive to degrade its resources in order to develop. We must capture as much benefit [from genetic resources] as possible for the provider country. This gives an incentive to conserve biodiversity," she said. That makes sense, but I hope over the next two weeks concrete commitments to protect oceans, forests, and their myriad inhabitants don't get lost in the shadow of ABS.
Unfortunately, if developed (industrialized) countries in the north do not give an inch, the resource-rich countries in the south will not agree on further access. The patent rules of WIPO and TRIPS in the WTO are all hinged on progress in the ABS negotiations in the CBD (and I do not think I could fit in more obscure terms in a sentence if I tried, but that is how I feel right now).
Asahi just filed this story, worth quoting in full as it tells the story that mainstream media in Europe (or North America) has not yet begun to cover:
COP10/ Firms get set for planned genetic resource rules
Anticipating growing international pressure, some Japanese companies are already taking steps to funnel part of the profits from genetic resources used to make products back to their countries of origin.
Providers of these resources--mostly developing countries--and industrialized nations are sharply divided over details of proposed rules on access and benefit sharing (ABS), a key issue at the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP10) now under way in Nagoya.
ABS refers to the way that genetic resources from animals, plants and microorganisms are obtained and how part of the profits from their use by businesses and other organizations is distributed to the people or countries which provide them.
It remains unclear whether the COP10 meeting can clinch legally binding ABS rules known as the Nagoya Protocol, but companies say momentum demanding users to share appropriate benefits with providers will only grow.
At the COP6 meeting in 2002, the parties to the convention already adopted voluntary Bonn Guidelines on ABS, and many companies are moving in that direction.
One such firm is Sakata Seed Corp., the nation's leading seed and plant supplier.
The Yokohama-based company concluded a contract with Instituto Nacional de Tecnologia Agropecuaria in Argentina in 2003 that obliges the company to pay for commercializing plants originating there for ornamental purposes.
"We have shared results of a survey on distribution of plants and provided technology to develop new varieties," said Tsutomu Kagami, executive officer at Sakata. "Our contract proved successful because it included a clause to share nonmonetary benefits that will spur the partner's prosperity."
Sakata is searching for new plant varieties under a program similar to one in Argentina in several other countries.
At an international symposium for the conservation and sustainable use for Asian microbial resources held Oct. 13-14 in Tokyo, the participants included more than those from the drug and cosmetics industries that have a big stake in genetic resources.
Employees with companies producing beer, natto made of fermented soy beans and tires were there to gather information because derivatives of genetic resources may come under ABS regulation.
The symposium was organized by the National Institute of Technology and Evaluation (NITE), an organization under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. NITE is conducting joint search on unknown microorganisms in Indonesia, China and five other countries by concluding agreements with national bodies in each country.
NITE stores discovered microorganisms in Japan and provides them to companies and research institutes for a price. Part of the generated profit is distributed to providers via NITE.
Nine Japanese companies are developing drugs and food products, taking advantage of this program.
"It is burdensome for an individual company to negotiate with a partner country on its own," said Katsuhiko Ando, an official with NITE's Biotechnology Development Center. "A company can feel it safe to use the resources obtained by cooperation between government-affiliated organizations."
Inquiries from businesses and research institutes have been surging, asking what precautions they should take when they use biological resources overseas, according to the Japan Bioindustry Association (JBA).
The JBA has received 60 inquiries during the six months from April, compared with 74 in all of fiscal 2009.
Yoshiyasu Yabusaki, director of the JBA's bioindustry development department, said that an increase in the number of inquiries reflects a risk-management step by businesses to avoid potential lawsuits by countries where the resources originate.
The Nord Institute for Society and Environment, a Tokyo think tank that began offering advice to businesses on matters concerning genetic resources, says companies should take caution on the use of such resources.
"Many developing countries harbor a feeling that they have been exploited since the Age of Exploration," said Miharu Sono, chief researcher at the institute. "Businesses could be dealt a serious blow if they take the wrong approach."