A new United Nations treaty on the equitable sharing of the planet’s wealth of genetic resources opened for signing today with Algeria, Brazil, Colombia and Yemen becoming the first countries to sign the protocol, which is also designed to conserve and protect the world’s diminishing resources.
The Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from Their Utilization stipulates the basic rules on how nations will cooperate in obtaining genetic resources. It was adopted by the Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in the Japanese city of Nagoya in October last year.
Ahmed Djoghlaf, the CBD Executive Secretary, told reporters at UN Headquarters today that the protocol is a “partnership between the user of the biodiversity or genetic resource and the owner.” He described it as “one of the most important legal instruments which will implement the concept of sustainable development and contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.”
The Protocol will remain open for signing in the Secretary-General’s office for the next one year. It requires 50 State ratifications to enter into force, Mr. Djoghlaf said.
The treaty outlines how benefits – for example, from when a plant’s genetics are turned into a commercial product, such as medicine – will be shared with countries and communities who conserved and managed that resource, in some cases for millennia.
It also lays out rules on how substances and compounds derived from genetic resources will be dealt with, as well as on the issue of pathogens, including how developed countries could obtain a flu virus in emergency situations to develop a vaccine to counter a possible epidemic.
The Protocol builds on the Convention and supports the further implementation of one of its three objectives – the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of biodiversity.
Genetic resources, whether from plant, animal or micro-organisms, are used for various purposes, ranging from basic research to the development of products.
Users of genetic resources include research institutes, universities and private companies operating in various sectors such as pharmaceuticals, agriculture, horticulture, cosmetics and biotechnology.
Benefits derived from genetic resources may include the sharing of the results of research and development carried out on genetic resources, the transfer of technologies which makes use of those resources, participation in biotechnological research activities, or monetary benefits arising from the commercialisation of products based on genetic resources, such as pharmaceuticals.