Disagreements in international biodiversity negotiations revealed

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Progress has been made towards an international agreement on access the world’s biodiversity, but much remains uncertain.

The resulting agreement could affect cosmetics companies looking to source their ingredients abroad; however, the type of resources covered by the agreement and the details of how benefits should be shared have not been decided.

During meetings in Paris earlier this month significant differences in opinion between stakeholders became apparent, explained Maria Julia Oliva, from the Union for Ethical Biotrade.

Genetic resources or more?

The African Group advocated broad rules on the types of resources that should be covered, including genetic resources, biological resources and their derivatives.

This was seen as being too wide by many groups including the European Union - as in theory it could include commodities such as wheat and cocoa - which advocates the rules should just apply to genetic resources.

Genetic resources are defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) as genetic material of actual or potential value, but even this definition is open to different interpretations, warned Oliva.

It could include any resource that has genetic material in it, for example any plant, or it could be much narrower and cover only new products produced by biotechnology industry based on the genetic resource in question.

Evidently, the first definition would have much wider implications for the cosmetics industry.

Sharing the benefits

In addition, debate surrounds how benefits from the biodiversity-based resources should be shared.

Developed countries think benefit sharing should be agreed between user and provider on a case by case basis, explained Oliva. In this case, the proposed international agreement could include model partnerships and encourage benefit sharing but not prescribe the form it should take.

In contrast, many developing countries feel the international agreement should be more prescriptive, establishing certain parameters and not leave it up to user and provider entirely.

The discussions will continue in November in Montreal, Canada, in the hope of coming to a decision about the fundamentals of the agreement.

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