U.N. Must Not Rush Genetic Resources Protocol: Lobby
Author: Chisa Fujioka
The world should not rush to reach agreement on a United Nations protocol that could have a huge impact on businesses by setting rules for access to genetic resources and discoveries, a Japanese lobby said on Wednesday.
Negotiators from over 190 countries will gather in Nagoya, Japan, from Oct 18-29 to try to finalize an outline that would affect how and when companies and researchers can use genes from plants or animals that originate in developing countries.
Countries rich in diverse plant and animal species, including Brazil, India and Colombia, say the measure would help to ensure that developing countries benefit from discoveries based on native species or traditional medicine.
But talks over the "access and benefit sharing" (ABS) protocol have been bogged down by differences between developed and developing countries over issues such as the scope of the agreement and the terms of access to genetic resources.
Takashi Yoshimura, manager of industrial technology at Japan's biggest business lobby, Nippon Keidanren, said more discussion was needed to pin down details so the pact would be one that companies could accept and implement.
"We do not want to see negotiators hurry to reach a conclusion that could pose problems in the future," Yoshimura told Reuters.
"The scope must be clearly defined and be reasonable, while making clear how that would be guaranteed. We also want to make sure that as long as there is a contract, companies would not be subject to other terms."
The protocol is part of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, which recognizes the sovereign rights of states over their natural resources in areas within their jurisdiction.
The U.N. talks in Nagoya will also aim to agree on a global target to protect the diversity of plants and animals after failure to reach a goal set in 2002 of a "significant reduction" in losses by 2010.
Yoshimura said Japanese companies backed global efforts to safeguard biological diversity but were worried about the potential impact the ABS protocol could have for industries such as pharmaceuticals and agriculture.
"We are concerned because, depending on the content of the ABS protocol, it could stifle innovation and lead to higher costs for consumers," he said.
For example, developing countries are calling for the protocol to cover genetic resources provided before the biodiversity convention came into force in 1993.
That could require companies to raise prices of existing goods and services to make up for money going to resource-rich countries.
"It's not just Japan companies, but industries in other developed countries also share our concerns," Yoshimura said.
The lobby was also worried that the protocol would dent Japanese companies' international competitiveness, given that the United States has not ratified the biodiversity convention.
"U.S. companies would not have to go through what could be cumbersome rules, while those in the convention would need to go through various procedures and bear costs," he said.
"There are worries over what impact that would have on competition for development in various areas."
(Editing by Joseph Radford)