Experts urge facilitating access to genetic resources

  • 9 April 2011

Any international regime governing access and benefit sharing for genetic resources should facilitate cross-border exchange of resources and encourage both private and public investment in bio-trade, experts from the breeding and bio-trade sectors told a conference this week.

The sessions, organized by ICC and sponsored by the International Seed Federation and the European Seed Association, were held concurrently with international negotiations on access and benefit sharing in relation to genetic resources taking place in Paris. The Working Group on Access and Benefit Sharing has been mandated by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity to negotiate an international regime on access to and sharing of benefits from genetic resources by 2010.

ICC is coordinating the participation of the diverse business sectors that use genetic resources in the current negotiations for an international treaty within the framework of the Convention.

Willy de Greef, Secretary General of Europabio, the European biotech industry association, explained that plant genetic resources have been constantly interchanged between different countries and regions for plant breeding purposes over thousands of years. All countries are dependent on each other for the genetic germplasm – a collection of genetic resources for an organism – in their main staple food resources.

“A pool of easily available genetic resources is essential to ensure continuing improvement of plant varieties which would help contribute to food security and proper nutrition of the world’s population,” de Greef said.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture has already established a multilateral exchange system for some of the most important food crops.

Flows in animal genetic resources exist mainly from developed to developing countries, while flows in trade of animal products, which are more profitable, take place in the other direction, according to Anne-Marie Neeteson of the European Forum of Farm Animal Breeders. She said programmes for the sharing of benefits of animal genetic resources have been taking place over many years through private transactions.

Cyril Lombard of Phytotrade Africa, an association that helps rural producers in the southern African region develop and trade in products derived from biological resources, emphasized the enormous need for investment from both public and private sources for the development of bio-trade.

Bio products are already competing for private investment with other more established products, and he warned that the additional risk of an international regulatory structure for such products would reduce investment in bio-trade.

“These presentations clearly underline the need for the negotiators to take into account the negative impact that a heavy regulatory framework would have on both developed and developing countries that want to access genetic resources and attract investment to develop their own innovative industries,” remarked Daphne Yong-d’Hervé Senior Policy Manager of the ICC Commission on Intellectual Property.

“Governments should work towards a regime which will facilitate and support innovation and trade, so that benefits can be created and shared,” she added.