Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Money matters at Nagoya Biodiversity talks

The Pacific Voyage Media Team, 27 October Nagoya Japan -

A lengthy discussion  is guaranteed whenever and wherever dollars are involved.  That perhaps explains why there are difficulties in negotiating a protocol on Access and Benefit-Sharing (ABS) under the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), a leading delegate from the Pacific said.
An ABS protocol will facilitate the sharing of benefits between providers and users.

But the CEO of Samoa’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Taule’ale’ausumai La’avasa Malua said it’s a complicated issue because trade is involved.

“Even though there has not been an instrument under the CBD, there are other regimes which control trade,” he said.

“Once you move into the area of ABS, you are really talking about trade and it doesn’t just affect biodiversity, there are other issues.”

Pathogens add further complications.

“You need them to manufacture chemicals. So you are bringing in the health aspect which involves the World Health Organisation (WHO). That’s another big issue.”

If an ABS protocol is negotiated, it will be beneficial for all Pacific countries. In Samoa for example, a case in point is the mamala tree, said Taule’ale’a.

Several years ago, Samoa claimed sole rights to the mamala, a gene believed to fight AIDS and cancer which grows in trees found there. The claim was made under the 1992 international Convention on Biodiversity (CBD).

A 50-50 revenue-sharing deal was signed with the University of California, Berkeley. This is the university developing the potentially lucrative drug.

At the time the agreement was signed, then Minister of Trade and Commerce, Hans Joachim Keil told AFP: "What we are doing now is getting the rights so that when they need to proceed (with the drug) they will have to get it from Samoa.

"We have the rights to the research, and we -- only in Samoa -- can produce or harvest the mamala tree, so that they have to deal with us and the people in Samoa.”

Valerie Normand, an ABS Programme Officer for the Secretariat of the CBD, said it is cases such as the mamala which highlight the need for an ABS Protocol.

“Traditional knowledge has been held by indigenous communities for centuries and often this traditional knowledge provides important links to identifying which resources actually have particular properties which can be useful to human well being,” she said.

A Protocol on ABS will facilitate the sharing of benefits between providers and users.

“In exchange for access to genetic resources, users of these resources are meant to share the benefits arising from their use. And this is set out in the Convention for Biological Diversity.  Access to the genetic resources is subject to the prior informed consent of the provider country.

“A user must first seek consent of a country a resource is found in. A user can’t just go into a country, pick a plant and carry out research. They first have to obtain the approval of that country and they also need to negotiate mutually agreed terms and that agreement will include a number of requirements and conditions for access, and also most importantly the terms of benefit sharing.”

Benefits could be both monetary and non-monetary, she said.

Taule’ale’a said an ABS Protocol will also ensure a genetic resource is conserved.

“If a biodiversity plant or micro organism is used, there must be a benefit for the country where the plant comes from,” he said.

“But there are multiple agencies and requirements that cross paths on this issue. For example, there is the WTO (World Trade Organisation) with things like copyright and intellectual property rights.

“It’s a big issue within WTO. There is also the Court for things like that.

“But from a biodiversity perspective, it’s more or less similar except it has a business perspective.

“This is why there is so much fuss because the countries know that if an ABS Protocol is agreed upon, this is where the trade will be controlled from. Trade is money.”

Taule’ale’a added: “The countries will fight among each other to see who gets the benefits because it has to be fair and equitable. So companies will become involved and big countries will be involved. They will all want to have the majority of the say because they have bigger economies and better technology.”

For small countries like Samoa, an ABS Protocol will be most beneficial.

“There might be some traditional formulas from our taulasea (traditional healers) where we can make some money from. What’s most important is that there are some guidelines under which it can be controlled.”

The ABS negotiations are continuing. A decision is expected over the next few days, before the end of COP 10 in Nagoya.

Talking the Biodiversity Talk
Pathogen: To illustrate how the term is commonly used, see definition online at MedicineNet.com:
“An agent of disease. A disease producer. The term pathogen most commonly is used to refer to infectious organisms.  These include bacteria (such as staph), viruses (such as HIV), and fungi (such as yeast). Less commonly, pathogen refers to a noninfectious agent of disease such as a chemical.  The term pathogen was devised about 1880 and was compounded from patho- meaning disease + -gen indicating a producer. Hence, a disease producer.”

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