WGABS: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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WGABS Co-chairs Tim Hodges (centre) and Fernando Casas (third from right).

The fortunes of the resumed 9th meeting of the Working Group on Access and Benefit Sharing (WGABS) continue to be capricious with steep highs and lows. After a full day on the 19th, Parties negotiated into the wee hours of the morning of the 20th and retired for the night in relatively high spirits, having reached a broad agreement on provisions of benefit sharing and access. While there were still brackets in the text, there was an agreement in principle that user countries will ensure benefit sharing and provider countries will guarantee transparent and clear access standards.

The negotiations on the 20th, on the other hand, have had mixed fortunes…

There has been good discussion of the issues concerning indigenous peoples and local communities, especially on their rights over not just their traditional knowledge but also genetic resources. All Parties recognize that where national law provides for it, the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities over their genetic resources and not just traditional knowledge should be guaranteed in the ABS Protocol. There are still, however, a few Parties with reservations on recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities over genetic resources only on the basis of customary international law.

Things took a turn for the worse in the afternoon when Canada announced that they had news from their capital that they cannot agree to the working definition on what constitutes “utilization of genetic resources” that was carefully drafted in the last round of negotiations. Despite the fact that this definition was not negotiated yet, until that moment, all Parties had agreed in principle to work with it as a tentative definition. Canada’s announcement caused an uproar, with some Parties refusing to negotiate any further. At this stage, the Co-Chairs of the Working Group called for a suspension of the negotiations until they are able to resolve this impasse with key Party representatives behind closed doors.

20 September 2010

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