Stalled Talks and Walk-outs: All in a Day’s Work at the WGABS

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The resumed 9th meeting of the Working Group on ABS (WGABS) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) ended on September 21, 2010, in Montreal. The negotiations were difficult, peppered with moments when they ground to a near halt due to a lack of political consensus on two major issues: 1) What is the definition of “utilization of genetic resources” for the purposes of triggering benefit sharing? 2) What would be the scope of the ABS Protocol? Relating to the second question, the key issues were the following: whether the Protocol would cover pre-Protocol accessions of genetic resources now in ex-situ collections or be limited to only genetic resources accessed after the entry into force of the Protocol; whether the Protocol would be limited exclusively to genetic resources within national jurisdictions or also cover genetic resources outside territories including Antarctica and the high seas; and whether the Protocol would include or exclude human pathogens.

There was no consensus reached on any of these issues, despite significant areas of convergence in the negotiations…

The WGABS will resume on October 16 in Nagoya to formally conclude its 9th meeting. It will then present its report to the 10th Conference of the Parties (COP 10) to the CBD. It is presumed that the COP will then set up an ABS contact group to continue its negotiations through the course of COP 10.

Negotiations became particularly difficult when they came to the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) to genetic resources. The International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity (IIFB), represented by Mathias Ahren of the Sami Parliament, categorically stated that IPLCs will boycott any deal that does not recognize the rights of IPLCs to genetic resources in international law. Parties across the board responded by arguing that while the CBD provides clear rights to IPLCs over their traditional knowledge, the rights of IPLCs to genetic resources have to be in accordance with national law. Parties pointed out that IPLCs have made significant inroads in these negotiations, illustrated by the fact that none of the governments have stated that the rights of IPLCs to traditional knowledge are “subject to national law”, despite this being the language of the CBD’s Article 8(j). Parties have been willing to recognize IPLC rights to genetic resources in accordance with national law, but they feel that genetic resources are essentially DNA sequences that cannot specifically belong to any one community.

In response, IPLC representatives walked out in protest of the non-recognition of their rights to genetic resources in international law in the ABS Protocol text, forcing negotiations to a temporary halt. A compromise text was later worked on by the EU and Africa, which IIFB was willing to work with on the condition that the text is bracketed and not decided as agreed. The negotiators did not have a chance to come back to this text due to the lack of time.

The meeting documents, including the final report, can be accessed here. Negotiations on the current text coming out of the Montreal meeting are expected continue in the Contact Group on ABS in Nagoya during COP 10.

22 September 2010

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