The resumed 9th meeting of the Working Group on Access and Benefit Sharing ended on July 16th, 2010, in Montreal. The Working Group was unable to complete the mandate given to it by the Conference of Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to complete negotiation of a Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS). The Working Group therefore decided to not conclude the 9th meeting but to resume it in September in Bangkok, Thailand, to complete its work. Parties negotiating the Protocol hailed the Montreal meeting as a breakthrough after years of deadlocks and were extremely hopeful that the next round of negotiations will be the final round.
The key outstanding issues that still need to be negotiated are: 1) the relationship of the ABS Protocol to other international conventions, particularly the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the Antarctic Treaty System; 2) the scope of the ABS Protocol and whether it covers the utilization of genetic resources accessed prior to the protocol (i.e. temporal scope) and also whether the ABS Protocol would cover pathogens; and 3) compliance provisions relating to traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources and the status of ‘publicly available’ traditional knowledge.
Representatives of indigenous peoples and local communities and developing countries are deeply concerned about the push by the European Union to relegate compliance relating to the utilization of traditional knowledge to the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Inter-governmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (WIPO-IGC). Developing countries argue that while the WIPO-IGC may be an appropriate forum to deal with intellectual property rights that relate to innovations based on traditional knowledge, issues of compliance have to be dealt with under the ABS Protocol since this was the mandate given to the Working Group by the 6th Conference of Parties to the CBD.
The time between the end of the Montreal meeting and the beginning of the Bangkok meeting will be filled with intensive discussions between the negotiators and their governments to get the political mandate to make the necessary concessions in the next round of negotiations. This will be a critical period in order to finalise the ABS Protocol in time for its adoption at the 10th meeting of the CBD Conference of Parties in Nagoya in October.