WIPO Traditional Knowledge Committee Pushes Toward Text-Based Talks

16 December 2009

After hard-fought negotiations during informal talks from 7 to 11 December, the committee of the World Intellectual Property Organization that deals with traditional knowledge came close to agreement on how its text-based negotiations should proceed.

Under the guidance of newly elected chair Juan José Gómez Camacho of Mexico, the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources (the IGC) came within "a centimetre" of agreeing on a framework for how its negotiations will proceed between now and September 2011, when the IGC is supposed to present the WIPO General Assembly with texts outlining a legal instrument (or instruments) on the protection of the three topics in its mandate.

Last week's meetings were guided by a new mandate for WIPO that was agreed in October.

That document calls on the eight-year-old IGC to move to "text-based negotiations" with the aim of "reaching agreement on a text of an international legal instrument (or instruments) which will ensure the effective protection of [genetic resources], [traditional knowledge], and [traditional cultural expressions]." The mandate also calls for the IGC to develop a "clearly defined work programme" for 2010 and 2011.

But despite some progress in substantive discussions during last week's meetings, delegates continue to disagree on a couple of fronts, namely how the committee's intersessional working groups should be composed, and in what order the delegates should discuss each of its three issues.

A proposal put forward earlier this year by the African Group posits that the number of experts who participate in the working group sessions should be capped, but the Group B coalition of developed countries wants no limit to be put on the number of people who can participate in the meetings.

Delegates also disagree over whether the three issues under their mandate - genetic resources, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions - should be discussed in separate sessions, or jointly. The African Group has argued in favour of the former option, while the Group B countries prefer the latter.

The committee agreed to take up such questions when it next meets. Three ‘intersessional' working group meetings have already been scheduled: one in February or March 2010, another in October 2010, and a third in February or March 2011.

If, as planned, the IGC forwards texts to the General Assembly in September 2011, the members of the GA will then decide whether to convene a diplomatic conference to consider adopting the texts. "If and when a diplomatic conference is convened on these matters, any instrument(s) adopted would become legally binding on those states which choose to ratify it/them," WIPO said in a statement on Friday.

Some of the issues under discussion in the IGC, such as genetic resources and traditional knowledge, are also being discussed in other international forums, most prominently the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The next CBD Conference of the Parties, which will be held in Japan in October next year, is expected to result in important decisions regarding the long-running negotiations on an international regime for access and benefit sharing. Many observers have begun speculating about how developed and developing countries may try to make the work of the IGC consistent with their desired outcomes in the CBD negotiations.

ICTSD reporting; "WIPO traditional knowledge negotiators dodging roadblocks," IP-WATCH, 10 December 2009.

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