European Parliament Calls for Binding Instrument on Genetic Resources

23 January 2013

A binding legal instrument would be the surest way to prevent the misappropriation of genetic resources (GRs) and traditional knowledge originating from biodiversity-rich developing countries, European Parliament members said last week. Their resolution - adopted by an overwhelming majority - also underlines the importance of a coherent global governance system to support these measures.

The resolution is based on a report by French member of the European Parliament (MEP) Catherine Grèze, which had previously been adopted by the parliamentary Committee on Development.

"There is a strong case for protecting traditional knowledge, particularly when it is associated with genetic resources of economic value to industry," Parliament members explained, stressing the need for preventing the negative effects of the intellectual property (IP) system on indigenous peoples' application of traditional knowledge, and their ability to use that knowledge in relation to genetic resources.

Most genetic resources' providers and traditional knowledge holders are from developing countries, with 70 percent of the world's poor depending directly on biodiversity for their subsistence.

"The report adopted today outlines the problem and sets out measures to protect the intellectual property rights for genetic resources and traditional knowledge in poorer countries and regions," Grèze noted after the vote.

According to the resolution, the misappropriation of genetic resources is often caused by the lack of national regulations in biodiversity-rich countries and the absence of compliance mechanisms in countries that use genetic resources. A binding legal instrument would help mitigate that situation, Parliament members said.

The resolution also urges the EU and its member states to call for swift ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity's (CBD) Nagoya Protocol, which focuses on access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits that arise from their use.

Although non-binding, a resolution has political relevance for European institutions, given that it indicates the political orientation of MEPs regarding specific topics within and outside the EU.

LDC trade deals should avoid "far-reaching" IP standards; global governance system needed

The resolution also calls on the EU to avoid from pushing developing countries, particularly least developed countries (LDCs), into accepting far-reaching IP standards in future bilateral and regional trade pacts particularly regarding seeds and medicines.

Notably, it says that such future agreements that aim "at harmonisation, and in particular those concerning the scope of exceptions and limitations to patent rights, will require careful scrutiny from a development perspective."

At the multilateral level, a coherent international governance system on intellectual property rights (IPRs) and genetic resources is also important, the resolution says. Since 2001, the WTO's Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) has been mandated to address the relationship between the organisation's TRIPS Agreement and the CBD.

"International IP arrangements, notably the WTO's TRIPS agreement, must be reformed to ensure they support the overarching goals of the CBD on genetic resources, rather working against them," Grèze concluded.

In order to align TRIPS with the CBD and the Nagoya Protocol, developing countries have proposed that the WTO agreement be amended with an article requiring that patent applicants disclose the origin of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge in their inventions, as well as provide evidence of prior informed consent and benefit sharing with communities.

The resolution adopted last week calls upon the EU to support the amendment, while adding that such requirements could also be introduced via a new international legal instrument(s) - a topic that is currently under discussion at the World Intellectual Property Organization's (WIPO) Intergovernmental Committee on Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge, and Folklore (IGC).

The IGC is next slated to meet from 4-8 February in Geneva and will focus on genetic resources.

ICTSD reporting.

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