Access and Benefit-Sharing (ABS) in the World

Spice Market - Photo: © R. Khalil, Bioversity InternationalAccess to genetic resources and sharing of the benefits arising from their utilization (ABS) is the third objective of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which was open to signature at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The CBD entered into force the following year and now has 193 Parties.

In 2002, the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the CBD adopted the Bonn Guidelines on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of the Benefits Arising from their Utilization which further clarifies concepts pertaining to ABS such as prior informed consent (PIC), mutually agreed terms (MAT) and Benefit-sharing.

At the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held in Johannesburg, Heads of States called for action to "negotiate within the framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity, bearing in mind the Bonn Guidelines, an international regime to promote and safeguard the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources" and for action to promote "the wide implementation of and continued work by the Parties to the Convention on the Bonn Guidelines on Access to Genetic Resources and Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits arising out of their Utilization, as an input to assist the Parties when developing and drafting legislative, administrative or policy measures on access and benefit-sharing as well as contract and other arrangements under mutually agreed terms for access and benefit-sharing".

From 2004 to 2010, Parties to the CBD negotiated the international regime in the Ad-hoc Open-ended Working Group on Access and Benefit-sharing (ABSWG) of the CBD. At the Tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, held in Nagoya (Japan), in 2010, Parties adopted by consensus the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and Fair and Equitable Sharing of the Benefits Arising out from their Utilization which will, when in force, be a core element of the international regime on ABS.

This legally-binding instrument will require signatory Parties to implement domestic legislative, administrative or policy measures to manage access to genetic resources and aiming at ensuring the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their utilization. The Protocol also contains provisions in order to share the benefits arising from the utilization of traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources with the indigenous and local communities holding such knowledge.

Internationally, some countries have already developed or are in the process of implementing national measures on ABS. Over 35 countries world wide including both developed and developing countries (among others : Australia, South Africa, The Philippines, The Andean Community) have regulation and/or policies in place. These domestic systems vary in nature and scope and reflect the unique environmental, social, and legal circumstances of countries when it comes to the management of genetic resources.

Other International ABS Models

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

ABS is also a component of the Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). Canada signed and ratified the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources in 2002. Through the Treaty, countries agree to establish a Multilateral System to facilitate access to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, and to share the benefits in a fair and equitable way in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Discussions in Other International Forums

Issues related to access and benefit-sharing are also discussed in a number of other international forums:

For example, Parties to the World Intellectual Property Organization, including Canada are currently negotiating an international legal instrument, or instruments, relating to intellectual property, genetic resources, traditional knowledge and folklore. The relationship between the Agreement on Trade Related-Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and the CBD is also being discussed at the TRIPS Council of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

There are also related international discussions going on under the framework of the World Health Organization and in forums such as the Antarctic Treaty System and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

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