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6-Regulation: International Undertaking approved by FAO conference

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-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  International treaty on plant genetic resources for food and
        agriculture approved by FAO conference
SOURCE: FAO, Italy, Press Release 01/81 C5
DATE:   November 3, 2001

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COMMENT by GRAIN: On 3 November, the renegotiation of the FAO International 
Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources came to an end. The revised text is 
called the "International Convention on Plant Genetic Resources for Food 
and Agriculture". It was adopted through a vote: 116 countries in favour, 
two countries abstaining (Japan and the USA).

The final round of negotiation last week was marked by the expected 
controversies: whether the treaty would be subordinate to global trade 
rules set by WTO, what it would allow for in terms of intellectual property 
rights on genetic materials, and which crops would form part of the 
"multilateral system" of access and benefit-sharing that it establishes.

The IPR provision that was finally agreed to says: "Recipients [of 
germplasm] shall not claim any intellectual property or other rights that 
limit the facilitated access to the plant genetic resources for food and 
agriculture, or their genetic parts or components, in the form received 
from the Multilateral System". The US, Japan, Canada and a few others tried 
to get this deleted at the last minute, but they were outnumbered.

NGOs attending the Conference criticised the Convention's weaknesses and 
ambiguities, but urged ratification to move forward in clarifying and 
implementing its provisions.


"Earth Negotiations Bulletin", produced by the International Institute for 
Sustainable Development, covered the final negotiations on a daily basis 
from 30 October to 3 November 2001.

"International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture", 
statement presented by public interest, non-profit civil society 
organisations to the 31st FAO Conference, Rome, 3 November 2001.

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, "First International Treaty of 
the New Millenium Adopted in Rome; Challenges IPR and WTO", IATP Press 
Release, Minneapolis, 4 November 2001. Request copy by email from

For a backgrounder, see GRAIN, "International Undertaking on Plant Genetic 
Resources: The Final Stretch", October 2001.



Rome, 3 November 2001. - An International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources 
for Food and Agriculture approved today by the Conference of the UN Food 
and Agriculture Organization (FAO), will ensure better use of plant genetic 
diversity to meet the challenge of eradicating world hunger.

The Treaty was approved with 116 favourable votes and two abstentions. 
There were no votes against.

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and 
Agriculture is a unique comprehensive international agreement. It takes 
into consideration the particular needs of farmers and plant breeders, and 
aims to guarantee the future availability of the diversity of plant genetic 
resources for food and agriculture on which they depend, and the fair and 
equitable sharing of the benefits, FAO experts say.

The International Treaty is in harmony with the Convention on Biological 
Diversity (CBD) which was adopted in 1992 as the first international 
binding agreement covering biodiversity.

In 1994, the FAO initiated an inter-governmental negotiating process for 
the revision of the 1983 International Undertaking on Plant Genetic 
Resources for Food and Agriculture, in order to adopt it as a legally 
binding agreement, in harmony with the CBD. The parties at this Convention 
have recognized the distinct characteristics and problems of agro-
biodiversity and the need for specific solutions to be developed by FAO.

The long and complex negotiating process, which gave birth to the new 
Treaty, has been led by Ambassador Fernando Gerbasi of Venezuela, Chairman 
of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA).

This new legally binding international agreement - which will enter into 
force when ratified by at least 40 States - provides a framework to ensure 
access to plant genetic resources, and to related knowledge, technologies, 
and internationally agreed funding. It also provides the agricultural 
sector with a multilateral tool to promote cooperation and synergy with 
other sectors, particularly with trade and the environment.

"The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and 
Agriculture is at the crossroads where agriculture, environment and trade 
meet. It is a major international instrument reflecting the significance of 
access and benefit sharing as the basis for continued and sustainable 
utilization of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture," FAO 
Director-General Dr. Jacques Diouf said.

"The approval by the FAO Conference of this International Treaty on Plant 
Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture is a milestone in international 
cooperation. It is the successful outcome of lengthy negotiations which 
started in November 1994 among FAO's Member States," Dr. Diouf added.

The Treaty revises the previous International Undertaking, which was 
adopted by the FAO Conference in 1983 as an instrument to promote 
international harmony in matters regarding access to plant genetic 
resources for food and agriculture. It recognized Farmers' Rights as being 
complementary to plant Breeders' Rights.

One hundred and thirteen countries have adhered to the original 
International Undertaking, which seeks to "ensure that plant genetic 
resources of economic and/or social interest, particularly for agriculture, 
will be explored, preserved, evaluated and made available for plant 
breeding and scientific purposes."

The International Undertaking is monitored by FAO's CGRFA, a permanent 
forum for debate created in 1983 and currently composed of 160 Member 
Countries, which will now act as the Interim Committee for the new 
International Treaty, until it enters into force. Mr. JosŽ Esquinas-
Alc‡zar, Secretary of the Commission, underlined "the technical, social, 
economic, political and ethical issues which surround the conservation and 
sustainable use of genetic resources."

Mr. Esquinas-Alc‡zar added that despite the approval of the International 
Treaty, "an enormous task still lies ahead to implement the provisions of 
the Treaty, in particular in view of the need to ensure that the genetic 
resources and local technologies developed by generations of farmers are 
complemented and enhanced by the new genetic technologies, and not 
threatened or replaced by them."

The length of the negotiations reflects the difficulties in reaching 
agreement on matters related to intellectual property rights and the list 
of crops covered by the Treaty. However, the Treaty shows the wide 
international commitment that both traditional and modern technologies 
should be used to serve humanity, in particular to alleviate hunger and 
promote sustainable development in developing countries.


For further information, please consult websites:
cgrfa/default.htm or contact Mr. JosŽ Esquinas-Alc‡zar, Secretary of the 
FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (tel.: 
0039.06.57054986; email: or FAO Media Relations 
Branch at tel.: +39.06.5705 2232

Aditional information: Making plant genetic resources beneficial and 
accessible for all


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