The first step has been taken, in Brazil, towards a future international system to regulate access to the use of genetic resources and the division of the rewards derived from this use.
The most controversial topic at the 8th Conference of the Parties to the Biological Diversity Convention (COP-8), which is presently going on in the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba, is still far from forming a consensus.
After meeting for many hours, however, the negotiators agreed on the texts that will be used as a basis for the discussions from now on. They also decided that the issue will be discussed at two more work meetings following the COP-8.
The basic document will be the report approved by the permanent work group on this theme, which met for the last time in Granada, Spain, last month. The Brazilian government has been defending this solution since the beginning of the conference.
Nevertheless, in the words of David Ainsworth, spokesman for the secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), other documents will also be on the table, including an analysis that the secretariat is still preparing on national and international plans that deal with this theme and related matters.
The controversy persists, however, regarding the time frame for the creation of the international system to regulate access to the use of genetic resources and the division of benefits.
Early in the week the executive secretary of the COP-8, Ahmed Djoghiaf, declared his belief in a consensus over the date, 2008, when the COP-9 is scheduled to take place. This is also what the Brazilian government expected, but there is still no definition.
Other aspects in which decisions were expected have also failed to make progress: whether the international system will be mandatory or voluntary; whether it will deal exclusively with genetic resources, traditional knowledge alone, or both; whether it will only regulate access, only the sharing of benefits, or both; and, chiefly, the deadline for the system to take effect.
There is currently no global mechanism to regulate the division of rewards and access to traditional knowledge or genetic resources.
The creation of an international system is one of the three goals of the CBD, approved at the Rio-92 Conference on the Environment and Development, and it is the one that has advanced the least since then. The other two objectives are environmental conservation and sustainable natural resource use.