Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing opened for signature

On 2 February 2011, the “Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity” was opened for signature at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

Protecting Paris polyphylla, a medicinal plant in China

Many years of discussions and around eight years of negotiations had passed to agree on an “international regime” on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The tenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (CBD COP10), which took place last October in Nagoya, Japan, approved at the very last plenary something which seemed elusive until the last day of the COP and the intense negotiations that preceded it. On October 29 2010, the compromise text put forward by the Japanese presidency was finally adopted.

Criticized by many because of the ambiguity and generality of many of its provisions, the deletion of contentious references and the use of vague terminology, the Nagoya ABS Protocol provides nonetheless a very solid framework to regulate access and benefit sharing at the national level. If left for further negotiation, its adoption would not probably have taken place.

The Protocol aims at ensuring legal certainty for both providers (mostly biodiversity-rich countries) and users (pharmaceuticals, bio-prospecting companies and research institutions mostly in the developed world) of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge. No doubt that reaching a compromise agreement in Nagoya is a major step forward in responding to the third objective of the Convention, the “fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources” and the implementation of the Convention itself.

The Nagoya Protocol will enter into force 90 days after the fiftieth instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession has been deposited. The eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties, which will be held in India from 8 to 19 October 2012, is the target for convening the first meeting of the Parties to the Protocol. For that to happen, the Nagoya Protocol must enter into force no later than 8 October 2012, with the fifty ratifications deposited by 10 July 2012. The UN Secretary General and the Executive Secretary of the CBD have called on Parties to expedite the process of ratification of the Protocol and highlighted its important contribution to sustainable development, the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

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