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• 30•07•2001 •

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Keeping free access to the world's plant genetic resources for food and agriculture - Some hope?

6th Extraordinary Session of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, 25 - 30 June 2001, Rome, Italy, finalised a weak potentially IPR dominated IU at 3:00 a.m. on 1 July 2001. Better than nothing - but not much to write home about... Key issues remain outstanding until November


30 July 2001PDF file - use Acrobat Reader Final [Bracketed] Text & Report of Meeting - from FAO site


CSO statements / letters

Press Coverage

FAO and ENB Links

Briefing Documents

6th, 5th and 4th Contact Group Meetings and FAO Council

SUNDAY 1 July 2001, 2:00 a.m. GMT

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The text of a weak, empty, potentially patent-ridden IU was adopted at 3:00 a.m. Rome time. The half-hearted applause that greeted the announcement by the Chair was indicative of the lack of support from within the room - what chance of support once outside?

The IU is weak because

  • [Patents on derived material ALLOWED] - but the good news is that this is still bracketed.
  • [the IU is subordinate to the WTO] - but the good news is that this is still bracketed
  • Farmers' Rights SUBJECT to National Laws and therefore to UPOV + Patents - but the good news is that the preambular text still leaves room for reopening discussion on this key issue and after Ethiopia's (Dr Tewolde Egziabher's) impassioned and ultimately successful interventions, the applause was substantial - the only significant applause of the week!
  • That Commercial Benefit Sharing will yield very little - but the good news is that it is mandatory and agreed by all countries including the USA
  • Mainly because of these weakenesses a very small list of crops has been agreed (about 34 crops and 29 forages) - but the good news is that the EU has argued to keep the list open, at least until November.
  • Added to this are the desires of some tropical countries, including Brazil, to keep some crops off the list in the hopeless belief they can make more money bilaterally.
The whole week was dominated by disagreements - much of it in closed sessions.
A flawed process? Did it yield an IU that is just, equitable and comprehensive? The answer is clearly no and much work needs to be done over the next few months.
But what does this really mean?
That despite all the rhetoric, the OECD countries will not give up the possibility of monopoly rights over crop seeds and their genes in the public interest: profits before people...

The best news, though, is that the contentious issues raised by PGRFA are not side-lined and they will dominate the World Food Summit - five years later. All Members of FAO, at their Conference, and the many who will join in the Summit will have opportunities to revisit the outstanding issues and challenge the dominance of Patents, TRIPs and the WTO over the food and environmental security of the peoples of the world.

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Over the past 8 hours progress has been made. Articles 11, 15 and many administrative articles - including agreement to use consensus for decision making.

The Preamble required more time. As CSOs had warned, the issue of Farmers' Rights needed specific time for debate. Although Article 9 sailed through and was agreed in record time, Ethiopia asked to reserve the right to bring up the issue later; no provision was made for this specific negotiating time. Thus, when Farmers' Rights appeared in the Preamble, all the issues - suppressed in the 8th Commission meeting - resurfaced in an attack lead by Canada and the USA. The Canadian Delegate was even devious enough to mislead the meeting by failing draw delegate's attention to an obvious typo in the draft text which gave the reference to the now celebrated FAO resolution 5/89 on Farmers'Rights, which had been written down in error as 4/89. He said that the text of 4/89 had nothing to do with the realisation of Farmers'Rights and then proceeded to read the text from a screen on his computer which had, at the bottom, the text of 5/89 which, of course does! So much for the spirit of increasing understanding. Luckily the Chair spotted the error before it erupted into a row, as Ethiopia was on the point of intervening on this very issue.

Ably defended by Ethiopia on behalf of most of G77, the proposed text was debated for 90 minutes. In the end, the text was strengthened and the preamble (which has no legally-binding status anyway) was approved.

OLD TEXT [with brackets around text that was changed or deleted]:
Affirming that the past, present and future contributions of farmers in all regions of the world, particularly those in centres of origin and diversity, in conserving, improving and making available these resources, is the basis of Farmers' Rights [as unanimously agreed through resolution [4/89] 5/89 of the twenty-fifth session of the FAO Conference].

Affirming also that the rights [ ] to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed and other propagating material [without restriction] and to participate in decision making regarding[,] and in the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from[,] the use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, are fundamental to the realization of Farmers' Rights [and should be monitored] [ ] at national and international level[s];

NEW TEXT [additions underlined]:
Affirming that the past, present and future contributions of farmers in all regions of the world, particularly those in centres of origin and diversity, in conserving, improving and making available these resources, is the basis of Farmers' Rights.

Affirming also that the rights recognised in this Undertaking to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed and other propagating material and to participate in decision making regarding, and in the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from, the use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, are fundamental to the realization of Farmers' Rights as well as the promotion of Farmers' Rights at national and international levels;

Quite some improvement, although not legally-binding...

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SATURDAY 30 June 2001

The Chair is rumoured to have stormed out of the FAO building after a collapse of talks concerning the Article on the CGIAR gene banks - Brazil was being intransigent. Talks nearly collapsed.

Plenary then resumed at 16:00 for the last time in a 7 year process, and merely had to deal with all the contentious articles...

...but, as an optimistic FAO official was heard to say in the corridors: "the glass is half full, but I don't know of what liquid"

Heavy pressure was brought to bear on Brazil which then remained silent when Article 15 was brought before the Plenary and approved.

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This week watch out for 6 things:

1. Position of US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan - will they scupper the negotiations?

2. Article 12 on Access - will this ban IPRs on material received from the multilateral system

3. Farmers' Rights (Article 9) - will they have a high profile?

4. Benefit sharing Article 13 - will this really mean what it says - who will benefit, and how? Will farmers in developing countries see a reasonable return on the food industry's $2 trillion annual turnover and a good slice of the seed industry's profits?

5. The list of crops in the Annex - will these expand significantly towards the 100 key crops and their genepools and also cover all the crops in the CGIAR gene banks (see Article 14)?

6. Will this treaty have precedence over Trade agreements in areas concerning crop genetic resources and food security? (Article 4)

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FRIDAY 29 June 2001

This evening, the plenary looked at the contentious articles on Designation, Access, and Definitions.

A good part of the session was wasted on the question of whether they needed to agree things by consensus!
This was capped by inarticulate and language-challenging misinterpretations by Brazil of whether the word 'such' referred to what had just been mentioned in the earlier paragraph or meant something completely different - another hour gone...
Not to be outdone, the last hours of interpretation were spent in debating the meaning of PGRFA.
The Canadian delegate helpfully clarifed this by declaring that his government recognised that plants did in fact contain genes - something that Canadian farmer, Percy Schmeiser, victim of Monsanto's gene pollution, confirmed!
The US delegate said that her government was not able to deliver genes - presumably this service has been privatised and is now being delivered by Monsanto.

Today's special NGO Lunchtime Briefing with Percy Schmeiser (, the Canadian farmer who was the victim of Monsanto's genetic pollution was held in the Austria room.

More than 80 delegates and FAO staff attended a packed NGO lunchtime meetinghosted by IATP and chaired by ITDG: "[in the form] received": implications of Global IPR systems at the farm level"

Percy Schmeiser was the keynote speaker. He is a Canadian farmer who is the victim of Monsanto's contamination of his fields and crops by roundup-ready canola (oil seed rape) plants. This canola has spread involuntarily into his fields but Monsanto claim that they own his crops because their intellectual property is contained in them. As a consequence, they claim his crop and all profits from it. He is appealing a decision by the Canadian courts that he is guilty of patent infringement. The discussion raised important issues of direct relevance to the IU negotiations and Farmers' Rights.

Patrick Mulvany, ITDG, updated delegates on the NGO's perspective of the progress of the IU negotiations, summarised in Friday's pessimistic Press Release circulated to delegates. He urged Delegates to negotiate constructively to achieve a just, equitable and comprehensive IU. He emphasised the importance of these negotiations and the wider programme of work on agricultural biodiversity, managed by FAO, to food security and livelihoods: it is one of the most important areas of work of the FAO, he concluded.

NGOs put out a Press Release Friday lunchtime.

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Global seed treaty hangs in the balance

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The achievement

At 3.00 a.m. on 1 July 2001, 161 governments of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) agreed nearly all of the text of a legally-binding agreement that will govern the use of crop seed varieties and genetic resources that underpin food security. The agreement is needed to counter the rapid loss of these varieties from farmers' fields – more than 90 per cent in the past century – and also to limit the increasing use of intellectual property rights (IPRs) to claim sole ownership over crop seeds and genes, which is further restricting farmers’ access.

The International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (IU), covers major food crops developed in farmers' fields and stored in public gene banks. It aims to ensure the conservation, sustainable use and ‘free flow’ of the genetic resources of these crops so that they are "preserved… and freely available for use, for the benefit of present and future generations". It recognizes Farmers' Rights to access, use and sell seeds, although these are subordinate to national laws and hence plant variety protection and patent law. It also ensures that when these genetic resources are used commercially, farmers in developing countries receive a share of the profits generated, in return for their contribution to the crops’ development.

The Problems

Most of the text of the new IU was agreed even though some articles, for example on ‘consensus decision making’ are severely flawed, but there are still three decisive issues outstanding that will have to be resolved at the FAO Conference and the World Food Summit - Five years later in November 2001. These are:

· the extent to which IPRs can be applied to genetic resources covered by the IU

· the relationship between the IU and other international agreements, most notably the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)

· the food crops, forages and their 'wild' relatives to be included in the IU.

Access and IPRs

IPR regimes create private ownership rights which remove locally adapted varieties and their genetic traits from communal ownership and exchange, threatening future development of these varieties. NGOs and many Southern governments think the IU should keep these genetic resources for food and agriculture free of IPRs and hence any limitations to access. This should apply to seeds, vegetatively reproducing material, and also the genes they contain which express the special traits that farmers have bred into their crops.

The USA, in support of the seed industry, is negotiating hard to reduce the scope of article 12 that defines access rules by specifying that any derived material (varieties, genes and gene sequences) can be patented.

It is agreed, however, that mandatory commercial benefit sharing is based only on the use of material covered by the IU by the plant breeding industry. Thus, only if terms of access are attractive to Industry will there be commercial use and hence benefits. But these benefits to farmers will in any case be a tiny fraction of the US$ 2 trillion annual turnover of the food industry.

Relationship with other international agreements

Convention on Biological Diversity: Some Latin American countries, especially Brazil, fail to recognize the imperative for a multilateral agreement to cover the complex international composition and origin of most crop plants' genes. These countries prefer bilateral deals, within the scope of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), despite the fact that the purpose of this renegotiation has been to bring the IU into harmony with the CBD.

World Trade Organization: USA pressure is trying to make this treaty subordinate to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and especially TRIPS. This is part of an attempt to further weaken the IU.

The list of crops

At present, the IU only covers 35 food crops and 29 forages, representing a small proportion of the 100 food crops of importance to food security and 18,000 forages of value to food and agriculture. Soya, sugar cane, oil palm and groundnut are among important crops missing from the list. Without a significant expansion of the list of crops and forages, the European Union will probably not agree to the IU in November.

The Challenge - final negotiations in November 2001

The FAO Conference and World Food Summit - Five years later will be the forum for the final decision on whether the IU is adopted. It is imperative that agreement is reached not only for food security and farmers’ livelihoods but also the future of the international gene banks and public agricultural research. The implementation of the 1996 Leipzig Global Plan of Action on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture also depends on a successful outcome. Failure to reach an agreement could damage the credibility of the FAO as it hosts the high profile food summit.

The IU has the potential to be a prime example of responsible global governance, ensuring that those genetic resources which underpin social needs are maintained in the public domain. This agricultural biodiversity provides security against future adversity, be it from climate change, war, industrial developments or ecosystem collapse.

An agreement in the public interest rather than for private profit would ensure the genetic resources that underpin food security are safeguarded in perpetuity.

From 2 to 13 November, in Rome, Italy, 180 governments will be responsible for the final negotiations of the IU at the FAO Conference and the World Food Summit - Five years later.

Patrick Mulvany, Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG),Email:

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CSO Letter to Delegates to the negotiations of the International Undertaking and FAO Permanent Representatives

From: Civil Society Organizations participating as observers to these negotiations

Date: July 23, 2001

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Dear Madam/Sir,

First of all we would like to congratulate you with the progress made in the negotiations to agree on a new IU at the last meeting of the Commission on PGRFA, held 25-30 June in Rome. Important progress was made to wrap up these negotiations, and the establishment of a new legally binding treaty on agricultural biodiversity is now within reach.

While we are overall very happy with the progress made, we also have a number of serious concerns about the final outcome of the negotiations. Please find attached a short briefing on the outcome of the negotiations drawn up by GRAIN (Genetic Resources Action International) – that summarise them well.

In our opinion the single most important outstanding (and still bracketed) issue is whether the IU will unequivocally prohibit intellectual property on the seeds and their “parts and components” of the materials shared under the Multilateral System. We think that if it does, then the new treaty will be comprehensive, cover many crops, and contribute to ensure the continued availability of genetic resources for further breeding by all. It will then become a milestone in the struggle for sustainable and biodiversity-based agriculture. However, if it does not, then the IU will contribute to the further privatisation and erosion of biodiversity – and thus undermine its own objectives.

We attach high importance to a strong, effective and successful Undertaking and very much hope that you will make the right decision in Rome next November – when the final text of the treaty will be negotiated. We will be there to support you in that decision.

We would very much appreciate your feedback on these ideas and

perspectives. Also, as CSO observers to the IU negotiations, we are

considering to open an informal electronic discussion forum about the IU

during the months of September and October in order allow for a free

exchange of ideas and proposals before the November Summit. Please let us

know if you are interested in being part of such a forum - and thus receive

the online discussion via Email - by replying affirmatively to this message


Action Aid

Berne Declaration


Gaia Foundation


Greenpeace International




Via Campesina

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The IU Hanging on its Last Brackets: A Brief Assessment


July 2001

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A new global treaty which aims to ensure food security through the conservation, exchange and sustainable use of plant genetic resources was roughly agreed to on 1 July 2001 at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome. But a number of crucial issues are still unresolved. These will have to be dealt with in November at a high-level meeting that will assess progress since the World Food Summit that was held five years ago. At stake is whether the world's agricultural biodiversity is nurtured to provide private gains for a few or food security for all.

The International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (IU) has been under negotiation for the past seven years. An earlier voluntary version of the IU had been agreed to by the member states of FAO back in 1981, framing genetic resources as a common heritage of humanity which needs to be protected from further erosion and loss. But that agreement was overrun by the new political reality of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which reaffirmed that States have sovereign rights over their own biological resources and linked access to these resources with the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from them. The underlying objective of the IU -- to ensure the continued availability of genetic resources for food and agriculture -- has not changed in those twenty years. It has only become more urgent.

The new IU will be a legally-binding treaty with its own governing body. Its overall focus encompasses all plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. But its core provisions on “access” and “benefit sharing” will apply to a specific list of crops. The genetic resources of those crops will be pooled into a “multilateral system” that will operate under IU rules.

Although the text of the new Undertaking was roughly finalised last week, there are still a number of crucial issues that remain in brackets, i.e. not yet agreed to. The most important ones are: whether and to what extent monopolistic intellectual property rights (IPRs) can be applied to genetic materials accessed through the multilateral system; the relationship between the IU and other international agreements, most notably the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, and what crops are included in the IU

The main lines

The new IU basically establishes the following:

  • The contracting parties will make specific efforts to conserve and promote the good use of genetic resources for food and agriculture. Good use includes agricultural policies that don’t undermine biodiversity and support for the role of farmers.
  • The IU provides for a multilateral system that sets common rules for access to, and the sharing of benefits from, crop genetic resources. This system applies only to a specific list of crops -- some 35 (+29 Forages) as of now. This list can grow if parties agree, but the crops that fall outside the list will be treated bilaterally on a case-by-case basis according to the provisions of the Convention on Biodiversity.
  • Access to genetic resources under the IU will be multilateral. In other words, countries commit all materials of the agreed crops into a common pot that parties can then draw from under the same rules.
  • Financial benefits from the use of IU-governed genetic resources will be shared through a compulsory mechanism that draws on the revenues generated from their commercialisation.
  • Whether and to what extent the multilateral system will allow for intellectual property rights on genetic materials in the common pot is still undecided. The current text is in brackets, leaving the possibility wide open.
  • Farmers’ rights, in the meantime, will be promoted internationally but subject to national law (such as the prohibition to save seed if the seeds are protected at the national level by IPR).

The watering down process

As often happens in the course of such negotiations, a number of OECD countries led by the United States managed to insert some last minute changes in the text that could make the IU less effective and less comprehensive:

  • Only those genetic resources that are in the public domain will be subject to the rules of the multilateral system. Companies and other private holders of crop germplasm are merely ''invited'' to contribute the materials they maintain. In essence, this allows private entities to be parasites on the system.
  • The requirement to share financial benefits only applies if the recipient of the multilateral germplasm limits access to the genetic product he or she sells. Furthermore, this benefit-sharing can only be realised through individual contractual agreements -- not necessarily based on new national legislation -- which could turn it into an unworkable and untraceable system.
  • The current list of crops to which the multilateral system will apply is ridiculously small. If the treaty is to contribute seriously to food security, it has to apply to many more crops and not only the major commodities.
  • The implementation of the IU, and any follow-up action that countries might want to develop under it, will be governed by consensus. In practice, this means that any country can veto any proposal and potentially block the meaningful execution of the treaty.

Despite the successful efforts to weaken the text during the final days of negotiation last week, the new treaty with its governing body is probably a good thing to have. As the multilateral system is meant to facilitate a wide exchange of crop germplasm -- and to share the benefits from it fairly -- it could help prevent a “Wild West” scenario of purely bilateral wheeling-and-dealing from completely taking over. The governing body that will manage the Undertaking, and the multilateral system, should provide a political platform where issues related to crop genetic resources can be dealt with openly at the international level. Everybody, but especially farmers at the local level in need of continued access to agricultural biodiversity, stands to win from such a system.

However, whether these laudable functions will actually materialise depends to a great extent on two things. One is whether the treaty will be able effectively to stop the further privatisation of genetic resources through IPRs. The other is whether the IU will manage to hold its own ground against the imposition of other rules and agreements, such as those implemented by the WTO, that ruthlessly prioritise commercial and international trade interests over and above agriculture and local food security. These are precisely the two issues that are still outstanding and hanging in brackets.

Final showdown at November’s food security summit

"The treaty fails in many respects," Patrick Mulvany of the UK’s Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) said at the closing the negotiating session last weekend. “It is not fair: although Farmers' Rights are recognised, they will be subordinate to national laws protecting the plant breeding industry. It is not equitable: mandatory benefits returned to farmers in developing countries through this treaty will be a minuscule fraction of the food industry's US$2 trillion annual turnover. And it is not comprehensive: it will apply to a mere 34 food crops and a derisory 29 forages, unless more are added before November."

We agree. The IU only weakly reflects the expectations and demands that 400 civil society organisations from 63 countries put on the table. But the real test for the treaty is still to come.

Countries now have to decide whether the IU will prohibit intellectual property on the “parts and components” (the genes and traits in crops) of the materials shared from the common pot. If it does, then the treaty will contribute to ensure the continued availability of genetic resources for further breeding, and will become a milestone in the struggle for sustainable and biodiversity-based agriculture. If it does not, then the IU will contribute to the further privatisation of biodiversity and will be seen rather as an international “undertaker” for plant genetic resources. Because it would then create a legally-binding system that removes biodiversity further away from the control of farmers themselves. It would allow powerful corporations to privatise the shared germplasm and enhance genetic erosion. No developing country will want to contribute genetic resources to a mechanism that allows the materials to be siphoned off as intellectual monopolies in the North. It would be both destructive and wrong.

The final showdown will take place during the first week of November in Rome, when the FAO Conference meets and will also take stock of how far things have come five years after the World Food Summit of 1996. At that gathering, the final version of the IU is due to be negotiated, adopted and signed. We expect that unless there is strong public pressure to push the IU in the right direction, then the commercial interests pushing it in the opposite direction could very well prevail and the IU will fail.

For further information see these UKabc pages: ITDG is maintaining a section of the UK Food Group's website entirely on the IU negotiations. It is loaded with press materials, position papers, campaign resources, contacts and links to official documents.

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Breve evaluación de Grain

Julio de 2001

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El 1º de julio de 2001, en la sede de la Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Alimentación y la Agricultura (FAO), en Roma, se acordó un nuevo tratado mundial cuyo objetivo declarado es el de garantizar la seguridad alimentaria a través de la conservación, el intercambio y el empleo sustentable de los recursos fitogenéticos. Pero todavía quedan pendientes varios temas cruciales, que serán tratados en noviembre en una reunión de alto nivel que evaluará los avances realizados desde la Cumbre Mundial de la Alimentación, realizada cinco años atrás. Lo que está en juego es si la biodiversidad agrícola mundial está enfocada a ofrecer ganancias privadas a unos pocos o seguridad alimentaria para todos.

El Compromiso Internacional sobre Recursos Fitogenéticos para la Alimentación y la Agricultura (CI) ha sido objeto de negociaciones en los últimos siete años. En 1981, los estados miembros de la FAO adoptaron una versión anterior del CI, de carácter no vinculante, que enmarcaba a los recursos genéticos dentro del concepto de patrimonio común de la humanidad, y en tal carácter debían ser protegidos de la erosión y la pérdida. Pero la nueva realidad política del Convenio sobre Diversidad Biológica, que redefinió los recursos genéticos integrándolos al concepto de soberanía nacional, y vinculó el acceso a los mismos con la participación justa y equitativa de los beneficios de ellos derivados, superó ese acuerdo. El objetivo subyacente del CI –asegurar el acceso continuado a los recursos genéticos para la alimentación y la agricultura- no ha cambiado en estos veinte años. Siquiera, se ha vuelto más urgente.

El nuevo CI será un tratado jurídicamente vinculante con un organismo rector propio. Su foco de atención en general abarca todos los recursos fitogenéticos para la alimentación y la agricultura. Pero sus disposiciones centrales sobre “acceso” y “participación de los beneficios” se aplicarán a una lista específica de cultivos. Los recursos genéticos de esos cultivos serán incluidos en un “sistema multilateral” que funcionará conforme a las normas del CI.

Si bien el texto del nuevo Compromiso fue concluido prácticamente la semana pasada, todavía quedan una serie de temas importantes que siguen entre corchetes, es decir sobre los cuales no hay acuerdo. Los más importantes se refieren a si los derechos de propiedad intelectual monopólicos pueden ser aplicados a materiales genéticos a los que se accede a través del sistema multilateral, y en tal caso, hasta qué grado; y la relación entre el CI y otros acuerdos internacionales, en especial el acuerdo de la Organización Mundial de Comercio (OMC) sobre los Aspectos de los Derechos de Propiedad Intelectual relacionados con el Comercio (ADPIC / TRIPs).

Los lineamientos principales

El nuevo CI establece básicamente lo siguiente:

  • Las partes contratantes harán esfuerzos concretos por conservar y promover el buen empleo de los recursos genéticos para la alimentación y la agricultura. El buen empleo incluye las políticas agrícolas que no socaven la biodiversidad y apoyen el papel de los agricultores.
  • El CI brinda un sistema multilateral que establece normas comunes para el acceso a los beneficios derivados de los recursos genéticos de cultivos y la participación equitativa de los mismos. Este sistema se aplica únicamente a una lista específica de cultivos –por el momento alrededor de 35-. La lista puede crecer en la medida que las partes estén de acuerdo, pero los cultivos que caen fuera de la lista serán tratados bilateralmente, caso por caso, conforme a las disposiciones del Convenio sobre Diversidad Biológica.
  • Conforme al CI, el acceso a los recursos genéticos será multilateral. En otras palabras, los países se comprometen a entregar todos los materiales de los cultivos acordados a una “canasta” de la que luego podrán efectuar retiros de acuerdo a las mismas reglas.
  • Los beneficios financieros derivados del empleo de recursos genéticos regidos por el CI serán compartidos a través de un mecanismo obligatorio que se nutrirá de los ingresos generados de su comercialización.
  • Todavía no se ha decidido si el sistema multilateral permitirá que se detenten derechos de propiedad intelectual en los materiales genéticos de la “canasta” común, y en tal caso, en qué medida. El texto actual está entre corchetes, lo que deja abierta la posibilidad.
  • Mientras tanto, se promoverán internacionalmente los derechos de los agricultores pero sujeto a las legislaciones nacionales (tales como la prohibición de guardar semillas si en el ámbito nacional éstas son protegidas por DPI).

Como ocurre a menudo, en el curso de las negociaciones varios países de la Organización para la Cooperación y el Desarrollo Económicos (OCDE), encabezados por Estados Unidos, se las ingeniaron para insertar, a último momento, cambios en el texto, que podrían quitarle efectividad y amplitud al CI:

  • Únicamente los recursos genéticos que están en el dominio público quedarán sujetos a las normas del sistema multilateral. A las compañías y a otros poseedores privados de recursos fitogenéticos se les hace una mera “invitación” a contribuir con los materiales que conservan. En esencia, esto permite que las entidades privadas sean parásitos del sistema.
  • El requisito de compartir los beneficios financieros se aplica únicamente en caso de que el receptor del germoplasma multilateral limite el acceso al producto genético que vende. Además, esta participación de los beneficios puede realizarse a través de acuerdos contractuales individuales –no necesariamente basados en una nueva legislación nacional- que a su vez podrían convertirse en un sistema inoperante y que haga imposible seguir el rastro de los recursos genéticos.
  • La lista actual de cultivos a los cuales se aplica el sistema multilateral es irrisoriamente pequeña. Si el tratado aspira a contribuir en serio a la seguridad alimentaria, debe aplicarse a muchos más cultivos y no sólo a los principales cultivos comerciales básicos.
  • La aplicación del CI y cualquier acción de seguimiento que los países puedan querer emprender dentro de los términos por él fijados, serán regidos por consenso. En la práctica, esto significa que cualquier país puede vetar cualquier propuesta y potencialmente bloquear la ejecución significativa del tratado.

A pesar de que la semana pasada, en los en últimos días de las negociaciones, los intentos por debilitar el texto tuvieron éxito, probablemente sea bueno tener este nuevo tratado con su organismo rector. La intención del sistema multilateral es facilitar un vasto intercambio de recursos fitogenéticos –y que exista una participación equitativa de los beneficios sobre él-, por lo que podría ayudar a impedir que se entre en un proceso feroz de negociaciones bilaterales de toma y daca. Tanto el organismo rector que se encargará del Compromiso como el sistema multilateral deberían ofrecer una plataforma política en que los temas vinculados a los recursos fitogenéticos puedan ser manejados a escala internacional. Todos tienen para ganar con un sistema de este tipo, pero más aún los agricultores locales que necesitan un acceso continuado a la biodiversidad agrícola.

Que esas funciones loables finalmente se materialicen depende en gran medida de dos cosas. Una, si el tratado podrá efectivamente frenar la privatización de los recursos genéticos a través de los DPI. La otra es si el CI logrará mantenerse firme contra la imposición de otras normas y acuerdos, como las aplicadas por la OMC, que, sin consideración alguna, dan prioridad a los intereses comerciales internacionales por encima de la agricultura y la seguridad alimentaría. Esos son precisamente los dos temas que siguen pendientes y entre corchetes.

Desenlace final en noviembre, en la cumbre de la seguridad alimentaria

“El tratado es defectuoso en varios aspectos”, declaró Patrick Mulvany, del Grupo de Desarrollo de Tecnologías Intermedias (ITDG), del Reino Unido, la semana pasada, en la clausura de la sesión de negociaciones. “No es justo: si bien se reconocen los Derechos de los Agricultores, quedarán subordinados a las leyes nacionales que protegen la industria fitomejoradora. No es equitativo: los beneficios obligatorios que se devengará para los agricultores de los países en desarrollo a través de este tratado serán una fracción minúscula de los 2 millones billones (o trillones - un l millon por un millon) de dólares de dividendos anuales de la industria de la alimentación. Y no es amplio: se aplicará apenas a unos 34 cultivos alimenticios y unos 29 forrajes - sino mas estén agregados antes de noviembre”.

Coincidimos. El CI apenas si refleja débilmente las expectativas y demandas puestas sobre la mesa por más de 400 organizaciones de la sociedad civil de 60 países. Pero todavía no ha llegado la hora de la verdad para el tratado.

Los países tienen que decidir ahora si el CI prohibirá la propiedad intelectual sobre las “partes y componentes” de los materiales compartidos de la “canasta” común. Si se pronuncia por la positiva, entonces el tratado contribuirá a asegurar el acceso continuado a los recursos genéticos para continuar su mejoramiento, y pasará a ser un hito en la lucha por una agricultura sustentable y basada en la biodiversidad. Si se pronuncia por la negativa, entonces el CI contribuirá a profundizar la privatización de la biodiversidad y será el artífice de la destrucción de los recursos fitogenéticos. En ese caso crearía un sistema jurídicamente vinculante que apartará aún más la biodiversidad del control de los agricultores. Permitiría que poderosas empresas privatizaran el germoplasma compartido y agravaran la erosión genética. Ning&ua;cute;n país en desarrollo deseará contribuir con recursos genéticos a un mecanismo que permite que los materiales sean pirateados bajo la forma de monopolios intelectuales del Norte. Podría ser destructivo y equivocado.

El desenlace final tendrá lugar durante la primera semana de noviembre, en Roma, cuando la Conferencia de la FAO se reúna a evaluar hasta dónde han llegado las cosas cinco años después de la Cumbre Mundial de la Alimentación de 1996. En esa reunión deberá negociarse, adoptarse y firmarse la versión final del CI. Por cierto que a menos que exista una fuerte presión pública para impulsar el CI en la dirección correcta, es muy posible que prevalezcan los intereses comerciales que empujan en la dirección opuesta.

Por mayor información:

El ITDG mantiene una sección del sitio Web de Food Group, del Reino Unido, totalmente dedicada a las negociaciones del CI. Hay abundante material de prensa, documentos de posición, recursos de campaña, contactos y enlaces a documentos oficiales

Por información en español, la página Web de GRAIN está disponible en, y también se encontrará en la página Web

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Les dernières incertitudes pesant sur l’Engagement international :

Une vue d’ensemble

GRAIN – Genetic Ressources Action International

Juillet 2001

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Un nouveau traité mondial qui a pour but de garantir la sécurité alimentaire grâce la conservation, l’échange et l’utilisation durable des ressources phytogénétiques a été accepté dans ses grandes lignes le 1er juillet 2001 au siège de la FAO (Organisation des Nations Unies pour l’alimentation et l’agriculture) à Rome. Cependant, des questions fondamentales ne sont toujours pas résolues. Une solution devra être trouvée en novembre lors d’une réunion d’experts chargés d’évaluer les progrès réalisés depuis le Sommet mondial de l’alimentation tenu il y a cinq ans. Il s’agit de déterminer si la biodiversité agricole mondiale doit être préservée pour assurer des profits privés à quelques uns ou la sécurité alimentaire de tous.

Les négociations sur l’Engagement international sur les ressources phytogénétiques alimentaire et agricole (Engagement) durent depuis sept ans. Une première version volontariste de l’Engagement a été acceptée par les Etats membres de la FAO en 1981, définissant les ressources génétiques comme l’héritage commun de l’humanité à préserver alors qu’elles sont menacées par l’érosion et l’extinction. Cependant, cet accord a été dépassé par la nouvelle réalité politique de la Convention sur la diversité biologique, qui considère que les ressources génétiques tiennent de la souveraineté nationale et qui lie leur accès au partage juste et équitable des bénéfices retirés. L’objectif sous-jacent de l’Engagement (préserver la disponibilité des ressources génétiques alimentaires et agricoles) n’a pas changé en vingt ans. Il est simplement devenu plus urgent.

Le nouvel Engagement sera un traité légalement contraignant doté de son propre organe exécutif. Son objectif général englobe toutes les ressources phytogénétiques alimentaires et agricoles. Mais le centre de ses dispositions, « l’accès » et le « partage des bénéfices », s’appliquera à une liste spécifique de cultures dont les ressources génétiques seront intégrées dans un « système multilatéral » qui fonctionnera selon les règles de l’Engagement.

Bien que le texte du nouvel Engagement a été finalisé dans ses grandes lignes la semaine dernière, certaines questions fondamentales restent en suspens, ne sont pas résolues. Les plus importantes d’entre elles sont les suivantes : premièrement, les Droits de propriété intellectuelle (DPI) s’appliqueront-ils aux boutures obtenues grâce au système multilatéral et si oui, dans quelle mesure ? Deuxièmement, quelles seront les relations entre l’Engagement et les autres accords internationaux, en particulier l’accord de l’Organisation mondiale du commerce (OMC) sur les Aspects des Droits de propriété intellectuelle liés au commerce ?

Les principes de base

Le nouvel Engagement établit les principes de base suivants :

  • Les parties contractantes s’attacheront à conserver et promouvoir l’utilisation raisonnable des ressources génétiques alimentaires et agricoles. Il s’agit notamment de mettre en place des politiques agricoles qui ne mettent pas en danger la biodiversité et soutiennent le rôle des agriculteurs.
  • L’Engagement offre un système multilatéral qui établit des règles communes pour l’accès et le partage des bénéfices tirés des ressources génétiques cultivées. Ce système s’applique seulement à un certain nombre de cultures, environ 35 aujourd’hui. Cette liste peut être élargie si les parties le désirent. Les plantes qui n’en font pas partie seront traitées bilatéralement, au cas par cas selon les dispositions de la Convention sur la biodiversité.
  • L’accès aux ressources génétiques dans le cadre de l’Engagement sera multilatéral. En d’autres termes, chaque pays confie tous les éléments constitutifs des plantes concernées dans un pot commun que les parties pourront ensuite prélever selon des règles identiques.
  • Les bénéfices financiers tirés de l’utilisation des ressources génétiques régies par l’Engagement seront partagés grâce à un mécanisme contraignant de prélèvements des revenus de leur commercialisation.
  • On ne sais pas encore si le système multilatéral autorisera les Droits de propriété intellectuelle sur le matériel génétique tiré du pot commun. Le texte actuel est mis entre parenthèses, laissant la possibilité grande ouverte.

En attendant, les droits des agriculteurs seront promus internationalement mais soumis à la loi nationale (notamment à l’interdiction de conserver des semences si celle-ci sont protégées nationalement par des Droits de propriété intellectuelle).

Un projet édulcoré

Comme souvent au cours de telles négociations, certains pays de l’OCDE conduits par les Etats-Unis, ont réussi à introduire des changements de dernière minute dans le texte. Ces modifications pourraient rendre l’Engagement moins efficace et moins complet :

  • Seules les ressources génétiques qui sont dans le domaine public seront soumises aux règles du système multilatéral. Les compagnies et autres détenteurs privés de boutures sont simplement « invités » à contribuer. En fait, cela permettra aux entités privées de parasiter le système.
  • L’obligation de partager les bénéfices financiers ne s’applique que si le détenteur de bouture limite l’utilisation du matériel génétique qu’il ou elle vend. De plus, ce partage peut être effectué par le biais d’accords contractuels individuels, pas nécessairement basés sur la nouvelle législation nationale, qui pourraient conduire à un système ingérable et indécelable.
  • La liste actuelle des cultures concernées par le système multilatéral est ridiculement limitée. Si le traité doit véritablement favoriser la sécurité alimentaire, il doit s’appliquer à bien d’autres plantes et non aux principaux produits de base seulement.
  • L’application de l’Engagement, ainsi que toute action ultérieure que les différents pays voudraient appliquer par la suite, devra faire l’objet d’un consensus. En pratique, cela signifie qu’un seul pays peut opposer son veto à toute proposition et bloquer de fait la bonne exécution du traité.

Malgré les tentatives réussies pour affaiblir le texte pendant les derniers jours de la négociation la semaine dernière, la mise en place de ce nouveau traité et de son organe exécutif est semble-t-il une bonne chose. Comme le système multilatéral a pour but de faciliter un large échange des boutures (et de partager équitablement les bénéfices qui en découlent), il devrait permettre la mise en place d’une « jungle » où les magouilles bilatérales règnent en maître. L’organe exécutif chargé de gérer l’Engagement et le système multilatéral, devrait offrir une plate-forme politique où les questions liées aux ressources phytogénétiques peuvent être étudiées ouvertement au niveau international. Tout le monde, et en premier les agriculteurs locaux qui doivent conserver l’accès à la biodiversité agricole, devrait gagner avec un tel système.

Cependant, ces fonctions louables ne pourront se réaliser qu’à deux conditions. La première c’est que le traité permette réellement d’enrayer la privatisation des ressources génétiques à travers les Droits de propriété intellectuelle. La seconde c’est que l’Engagement réussisse à faire valoir son propre point de vue face aux autres règles et accords, tels que ceux de l’OMC, qui donne implacablement la priorité aux intérêts mercantiles et ceux du commerce international au détriment de l’agriculture et de la sécurité alimentaire. Ce sont précisément ces deux questions qui sont encore en suspens et laissés entre parenthèses.

Le combat final prévu pour Sommet sur la sécurité alimentaire en novembre

Patrick Mulvany, de l’Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITGD) du Royaume Uni a déclaré à la fin de la session de négociation le week-end dernier que « le traité est insuffisant sur de nombreux points ». « Il n’est pas juste : bien que les droits des agriculteurs sont reconnus, ils seront soumis aux lois nationales qui protègent l’industrie d’obtention. Il n’est pas équitable : les bénéfices qui doivent obligatoirement être redistribués aux agriculteurs des pays en voie de développement d’après le traité, ne représenteront qu’une infime partie du chiffre d’affaires de l’industrie alimentaire évaluée à 200 milliards de dollars par an. Il est incomplet : il ne s’appliquera qu’à seulement 34 cultures alimentaires et à 29 plantes fourragères, c’est dérisoire ».

Nous sommes d’accord. L’Engagement international ne répond que faiblement les attentes et les demandes que 400 organisations de la société civile de 60 pays avaient mis sur la table. Mais le véritable test du traité est encore à venir.

Les pays doivent maintenant décider si l’Engagement interdira la propriété intellectuelle sur « les parties et composants » du matériel partagé dans le pot commun. Dans l’affirmative, le traité permettra d’assurer que les ressources génétiques restent disponibles et accessibles aux obtenteurs et il marquera un jalon dans le combat en faveur de l’agriculture durable et biodiversifiée. Dans le cas contraire, l’Engagement contribuera au processus de privatisation de la biodiversité et il sera plutôt considéré comme le « fossoyeur » international des ressources phytogénétiques, parce qu’il créerait alors un système légalement contraignant qui éloigne encore plus le contrôle des agriculteurs eux-mêmes sur la biodiversité. Il permettrait à de puissantes corporations de privatiser les boutures et les semences partagées et favoriserait l’érosion génétique. Aucun pays en voie de développement ne voudra offrir ses ressources génétiques à un mécanisme qui permet d’alimenter l’exclusivité intellectuelle du Nord. Ce serait à la fois destructeur et mal.

Le combat final se déroulera la première semaine de novembre à Rome quand la Conférence de la FAO se rencontrera pour évaluer comment les choses ont évolué cinq ans après le Sommet mondial de l’alimentation de 1996. Lors de cette réunion, la version finale de l’Engagement doit être négociée, adoptée et signée. Si la pression populaire pour faire pencher l’Engagement dans la bonne direction n’est pas assez forte, il est fort à craindre que les intérêts commerciaux poussant dans la direction opposée pourraient prévaloir.

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NGO RELEASE - 29 June 2001, 12:00

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Global Seed Treaty endangered by crafty US delegation

The final round of the international negotiations on a Global Seed Treaty ("International Undertaking“) being held from 25 to 30 June at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), have reached a critical stage. The treaty is to agree a legal framework for the conservation and sustainable use of the seed and germplasm of crop plants. It is being torpedoed by commercial interests, and the basis for food security is sinking fast.

Are the negotiators living up to the challenge posed by 400 Civil Society organisations from more than 60 countries? Is this agreement equitable, just and comprehensive? Score so far - 0 out of 3.

Greenpeace said today: „Industry's agenda is killing the Treaty. They are demanding the right to claim patents over any genetic resources of food crops that they can identify and modify. This is destabilising the negotiations and could lead to the collapse of this Treaty. If delegations don't take a strong stand today, the Treaty is dead.“

One of the biggest problems of the negotiations is the strategy of the USA to delay discussions by presenting new wording that undermines already weak text. New text on Access introduced by the USA now explicitly states that patents can be claimed on genetic parts and components that have been modified or isolated from the original seeds. The US also argues that it cannot rule over the seeds that are in the hands of its big biotech industry - which would amount to giving that industry a free ride and exempt it from any obligations under this treaty.

Patrick Mulvany of ITDG in the UK said "If it goes this way, this treaty is becoming a charter for biopiracy - it is irresponsible and unacceptable."

"Concern is building in the US Congress", said Todd Leake of the Farmers' Union of the USA. "Senator Wellstone wants to know if the US delegation is doing all it can to bring about a treaty in the best interests of family farmers in the USA and worldwide." Leake added " A new US Farm Bill is being prepared this month by Congress - international agreements such as this are a cornerstone for the future of farming in the USA. I am incensed that the US negotiating team is undermining the Undertaking. Who are they working for - the biotech industry or US family farmers?"

There are no plenary sessions. Instead regional meetings are distracted into discussing phrases which were primarily meant to delay the negotiations. Were this to continue, there will be no agreed text by Saturday. If this is the case, most experts are warning, it is likely that this might be the end of the Global Seed Treaty - a shameful end to seven years of negotiation.

The question whether plants and seeds can be patented has big impact on a lot of delegations from other countries. Some developing countries - including Brazil and Colombia - are pushing the line that biodiversity will make them money and aim to bilateralise the already weak multilateral framework of the IU. They are eager to sell genetic resources exclusively to some companies and therefore not subjecting them to the multilateral system, which will provide access to all the 160 contracting parties.

'There is still one day to go in these negotiations' says Silvia Rodriguez of Costa Rica's Programma Cambios. 'The best thing to do is to leave behind the few countries that are pushing their narrow commercial interests, and get the treaty agreed by the vast majority of the countries that are interested in a fair and comprehensive deal. The United States and a few others won't join anyway, so we might as well stop them from further obstructing the negotiations''

Action Aid, Berne Declaration, Crocevia, GAIA, GEN, GRAIN, Greenpeace, IATP, ITDG

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One delegate took exception to Sunday's report of the error made by the Zimbabwean delegate in Council when he sided with the USA in proposing that the IU negotiations be delayed beyond the November FAO Conference. This delegate left a note on the door of the NGO room accusing us of incorrectly stating the facts. Whoever this person is, s/he should look at the record of Council in document CL 120/PV/8 towards the end where the exact words of the Zimbabwean delegate are recorded. The truth is out there!

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Update: THURSDAY 27 June 2001

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It's Thursday night, the eve of the penultimate day of the 'last' meeting of a 7 year process and nothing would suggest a deal is about to be struck...
Today, there was no plenary. The only open session was a redundant and final meeting of the List working group which met, disagreed about what crop relatives should be included in the Crop genera already 'agreed' in Spoleto, could not bring themselves to add any new crops onto the list - so no onions, peanuts, soya...
There was only one glimmer of light, the whole Brassica family (Cruciferae) is included in all its splendour (with the exception of one relative found in the Andes)...

The key process is being conducted behind closed doors, with rumours and counter-rumours leaking out. First, the Benefit Sharing article is 'agreed' then Industry presents the 'Friends of the Chair' with a new 'Access' article that makes no reference to keeping the genetic parts and components in the material out of the clutches of IPRs; then Article 15 on the CG Gene Banks is being reformulated. For most delegates, this lack of transparency is leading to a lack of trust.

If a smallholder farmer and her household, the supposed beneficiaries of all this effort, looked in on what is happening, she would cry. All this effort, for what? A nearly empty food basket with some healthy cabbages and a miserably narrow set of other crops, genetically weakened by inbreeding, but a whole set of genes that are now the property of a distant corporation...

Have negotiators lived up to the challenge posed by Civil Society? Is this agreementequitable, just and comprehensive? Score so far - 0 out of 3.

If nothing happens on Friday the IU is probably dead - there would be no chance of concluding everything on Saturday alone, and more negotiating time is unlikely. The Treaty will have been timed-out!

Watch out for the Blame Game, tomorrow... in this game of 'pass the parcel of blame' who will be left holding the parcel when the money runs out?

NGOs circulated their letter to the CGRFA signed by nearly 400 non-governmental organisations from 63 countries that responded to an email request for sign-ons (See paper copies on desks and doors - and

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Update: WEDNESDAY 28 June 2001

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Well, Wednesday has come and gone and it is still CGRFA business as usual…
...governments are teetering on the edge of a precipice, being urged forward "in the name of progress" by one region while another region is challenging the very basis of the IU - the list of crops and forages - and is eating the cliff face from under the feet of the negotiators. And while countries hesitate on the brink of the abyss of food insecurity, some are considering how to retreat to the safety of a system based on interdependence.

ITDG, voicing the concerns of all CSOs present at the CGRFA, made a plea to the Plenary that delegations move forward by expanding the list of crops and forages on the List in Annex 1 and by not allowing late proposals to derail the negotiations. The importance of the IU for food security and livelihoods cannot allow it to be held hostage to industry's proprietorial advances: material in the mutilateral system, and its genetic parts and components, must not be subject to IPRs. The farmers of the world deserve better for the work they do on behalf of humanity: they deserve recognition and reward.

If Wednesday was signposted, incorrectly, as the day of decision - make no mistake about Thursday. If G77 does not give clear signals about the List of Crops and Forages, and if the European Region does not give clear signals that they may consider the one US contribution (on an MTA-based commercial benefit sharing system) but no more, then the deal is off: there will be no IU.

The Canadian Co-chair of the List of Crops and Forages working group made an impassioned plea to delegates to get serious. To consider the import of what they are deciding for the future of humanity, livelihoods and starvation. The CGIAR equally stressed that if crops, genrea and genepools are not given priority by governments then these genera will become extinct, internationally. Ther can be no moment more serious than this in terms of the food security of all of us, at local, national, regional and global levels

So, Thursday is decision day(?)

But watch this space for an update tomorrow...

... and visit for a preview of Friday's open meeting at 12:45 in the Austrian room.

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TUESDAY 26 June 2001

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Western hemisphere regions together could kill the IU.

In the Red corner - late bombshell proposals on commercial benefit sharing are leaking out into the foyers. These would take weeks of negotiating time (probably years - at current rates of progress), and will 'talk out the treaty'! The US, in the spirit of 'being helpful' (sic) wants to rewrite text in several Articles and keep clauses that would make the whole IU essentially voluntary... US industry quite pleased - European counterparts unhappy.

And in the Green corner - knives are out to reduce the crop and forages genera in the IU from some 18,000 known genera to a laughable list of 20 - even Arachis the peanut genus was deleted by Bolivia (not even in the Working Group) but then axed by Argentina. This does not give much credibility to any government hoping for supposed green gold from hay? Are they awaiting a latter-day Rumplestiltskin to weave his magic - who would this be and what future reward will he exact?

Wednesday will be the decider - will the combined effects of the battles in Red and Green rooms ditch the Treaty?

Do nations want an agreement - or do they just want to go on losing the world's extinguishing agricultural biodiversity whilst negotiators sit and spin in Roman luxury?

Decisions will have to be taken on whether the Chair's admitedly-not-completely-satisfactory compromise text, with all its subtle nuances and ambiguities, will be the basis for an agreement; Also, whether the IU will have a list of genera and crop and forage genepools that will really underpin food security in all countries and regions; And, if they want the safety net of International Collections of seeds of all important food crop genepools kept in genebanks as well as provisions for real benefits to farmers that would provide incentives for sustainable use and further development of the resources in farmers' fields...

or if they would rather let time and the genetic resources of the world, that are the raw material with which to confront the scourge of hunger, slip through their hands.

Governments - You decide!
there are only 4 days left...
your credibility is on the line with FAO's and the CGRFA's.

Other matters covered on Tuesday included a race through many, less contentious but none the less important Articles, with a brief pause for breath on Farmers' Rights (Article 9) - agreed as it stands with all its flaws but which the Africa Group reserved the right to come back to later in the week. Even Financing was agreed.

But even if the hurdles of Commercial Benefit Sharing and the List of Crops and Forages can be jumped, there still remain a number of sticky issues on Access, the Gene bank collections and Scope of the IU.

... and the NGOs held a Lunchtime Briefing: [ or components,] - stories from the real world, from 12:45 - 13:30 pm in the refurbished Austria Room for about 50 delegates. Greenpeace, Action Aid and US National Farmers' Union spoke. Chaired by GRAIN/GAIA. Much focus on effects of IPRs on farmers and the pending appeal in Canada by Percy Schmeiser.
Watch this space - Percy hits town tomorrow!

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UPDATE: Monday 25 June 2001

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Amb. Gerbasi opened the meeting at 10:00am, presented the programme and, after a couple of formalities, adjourned the plenary until Tuesday at 9:30 am. Louise Fresco, ADG for FAO Agriculture, welcomed delegates on behalf of the Director General and urged delegates to complete the IU as requested by the 119th and 120th Councils in time for the FAO Conference in November.

The CBD reminded delegates that the CBD COP 5 last May had asked FAO to complete the IU negotiations as quickly as possible. They would welcome an agreement in harmony with the CBD under any governance structure thought appropriate by the Commission - under Article 14 of the FAO or as a Protocol to the CBD. Amb. Gerbasi asked all regional groups to consider these options and report later today.

The only unexpected intervention was by The Netherlands which requested that the Working Groups be opened to Observers. This was granted by the Chair - Observers will be able to attend the meetings of the Crop List working group and the Definitions working group. This means that the workings of the Commission will be more transparent - however the 'Friends of the Chair' meeting is less publicised and some delegations wonder what schemes are being hatched by these 'unknown' friends.

The list of crops and forages under discussion is expanding. Expert panels have advised on how the list of crops and forages could be developed to include those that are most important for food security and helpful suggestions were made by the working group this evening to further expand the list - to include not just the crop genera but also wild relatives and related crops. And even Breadfruit might join the ranks... Watch this space!

But underlying all the negotiations are worries that there are too many difficulties being raised by a few countries and industry. The European Region and most countries in G77 are in favour of an agreement and will respect the Chair's call for understanding, creativity and flexibility during the week.

But all eyes are on the few countries that will need to show increasing openness and interest in completing negotiations this week - at least not standing in the way of progress. We are watching - but won't be waiting for long...

NGOs hosted a Press Conference in the International Press Centre at midday today. Lots of interest generating on the IU. More copy expected as the world's eyes focus on the deliberations here in Rome. The negotiations cannot fail...

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UPDATE: Sunday 24 June 2001

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Totti's Team Torpedoes Treaty Talks

Roma won the Italian football Scudetto - the league championship - and the city is in jubilant chaos. Ben Hur's Circo Massimo, just beside FAO's fascist facade, is the venue for a party thrown by the city authorities this evening for 1 million people. Under the weight of such popular pressure FAO is closed and all regional meetings on the IU that should have been held today are cancelled.

The pressure on the negotiators from 160 governments will spill over into the deliberations this week. Less time to agree on key outstanding issues may help energise the process, but a gift to those who want to filibuster and talk out the treaty - delay proceedings so that agreement cannot be reached. All participants will be watching and listening closely and noting those delegations that delay progress.

In the FAO Council the European Region including Switzerland robustly defended the IU and called for its finalisation this week. The US, supported by Canada, Australia and Japan (and somehow also ventriloquised by a sleepy Zimbabwean delegate who read out the note sent to him by the US!), called for a delay until all aspects of the IU could be fully understood and negotiated - they needed more time (and this after 7 long years of stilted negotiations).

Behind the scenes, progress has been made since Spoleto with useful bilateral and inter-regional discusssions. Also expert advice on the crop list will help the Commission expand the list of crops to some 40 to 50 genera plus a whole range of forages. Still a long way short of the 100 or more crops important for food security, as identified in the FAO's 1996 State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. And still lacking are many genera that are important for local nutritional security (protein, minerals, vitamins), health cures and rural livelihoods.

But all eyes are on the US... Will they topple the treaty or will they remain silent in the knowledge that it will be many years before they will get round to ratifying the treaty - they said as much in Spoleto. And will their behaviour be moderated by the new power structure in the US Senate, now increasingly hostile to Bush.


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Immediate release, 18.00 GMT, Sunday 1 July 2001



The flawed text of a new global treaty which could ensure future food security by conserving and protecting the genetic resources of the major food crop and forage species has finally been agreed, with reservations, at the 11th hour of a 7 year long marathon of negotiations in the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Rome.

The treaty is the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, or IU. It is designed to conserve and protect the key food and forage crops which underpin food security; to keep open access to these for all who need them for plant breeding, agricultural research and development and for farming livelihoods; and to ensure that benefits from the commercial use of seeds flow back to these farmers.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) immediately criticised it for providing yet further evidence of OECD countries' priority to support private profit rather than food security and making everything subordinate to the trade rules of the WTO and TRIPs.

OECD countries have reluctantly agreed to this treaty so long as it does not challenge existing intellectual property laws and have ensured that they will not be obliged, by this treaty, to rule over the seeds that are in the hands of big biotech industry. If the still undecided text is not challenged, rich seed and biotechnology corporations would increasingly be able to get hold of crop genes for a minimal payment and then privatise them.

"This amounts to giving that industry a free ride and exempting it from obligations under this treaty." Said Henk Hobbelink of GRAIN.

“The rich countries have asserted their corporations’ right to 'privatise genes’ over the rights to food and environmental security of poor people in developing countries. It is patents and profits before people and the environment.”

Loss of access to these vital resources and their use in fields, especially by the smallholder farmers in developing countries who develop and conserve them on behalf of humanity, will increasingly lead to their extinction. Although concerned not to challenge TRIPs and European patent laws, European countries joined with some of the G77 developing countries in recognising the imperative of having the seed conservation elements in the Treaty in order to ensure long-term food security, and fought hard to keep it alive.

"But the treaty fails in many respects". Patrick Mulvany of the UK’s Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) said:

“Farmers, developing countries and many European countries desperately wanted an effective treaty, and are relieved it has survived this make or break meeting. But this falls far short of the fair, equitable and comprehensive agreement that 400 civil society organisations from 60 countries demanded.

· It is not fair - although Farmers' Rights are recognised they will be subordinate to national laws protecting the plant breeding industry.

· It is not equitable - mandatory benefits returned to farmers in developing countries through this treaty will be a miniscule fraction of the food industry's $2 trillion annual turnover. and

· It is not comprehensive - it will apply to a mere 34 food crops and a derisory 29 forages, unless more are added before November".

The OECD changes to text on access and benefit sharing undermined the confidence of developing countries, where most of this agricultural biodiversity is located, that they would get a fair return from this multilateral system for putting their resources into it. Led by a troublesome Brazil, who want most plant species to be traded bilaterally, they witheld many species from the central list, making the IU far less comprehensive than civil society organisations had wanted.

François Meienberg of the Berne Declaration said today:

“There are not that many key crop species – only about 100 – that provide food for all. Some countries have held back crops that originated in their territories many thousands of years ago, with an idea that they might profit more from selling them through bilateral deals, but we consider this a dangerous illusion.

However, the key issue is get fairness and justice back into the IU in November. If there is justice, more crop species will be forthcoming.”

The NGOs noted that not only can more crops be added to the list, the most threatening text on Intellectual Property Rights and relations with the WTO is still to be agreed when the treaty goes for adoption to the intergovernmental Conference of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in November 2001 on the fifth anniversary of the World Food Summit.

Christoph Then of Greenpeace said today: “There should be no patents on life and especially none on the genes and seeds that feed us. The IU was, and still is, an opportunity for the first time to exempt a category of genes from private ownership, and to put agricultural biodiversity before trade. We must keep up the pressure."


For further information:

4.See for Background Briefings, NGO news and views and the joint letter signed by about 400 civil society organisations from 63 countries, presented to the FAO Commission on Tuesday 26 June as well as links to official documentation

Notes to Editors:

A strong NGO presence observed and lobbied negotiations in Rome of the FAO Commission on Plant Genetic Resources from 25-30 June. The meeting concluded at 3 am local time on Sunday 1 July.

Interviewees from the above organisations are available.

Call Lucja Wisniewska on +44 (0) 7780 997489


In the last century an estimated 90 per cent of varieties of more than 100 crop species available to farmers have been lost, and the increasing rate of patenting and privatisation is threatening to the global public interest because it:

  • removes resources from the public domain
  • threatens farmers’ livelihoods as their access to crop varieties becomes restricted, and these are replaced by a very small number of commercial seeds
  • undermines local and international food security, which is largely based on free use and exchange of seeds
  • reduces the agricultural biodiversity which is managed by farmers on the world’s behalf

The IU will eventually be legally binding, once ratified by 40 countries, and will establish a multilateral system for access to and exchange of the plant genetic resources for food and agriculture which appear on a list of inclusions. The IU also provides a mechanism whereby a share of the wealth generated from any commercial use of these resources is paid back to developing country farmers (‘benefit sharing’).

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  1. Clear political commitment to complete the IU negotiations and its subsequent implementation
  2. The IU to be the predominant international agreement on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) -- and as such to influence interpretation of WTO rules, where these conflict
  3. The exemption of PGRFA from all forms of intellectual property rights - meaning not only the intact material, but also the germplasm and genes it contains - once the IU comes into force
  4. An internationally-enforced obligation to implement Farmers' Rights in all countries
  5. Access arrangements to cover all the varieties of all the crops covered by the IU including those on farms, in research institutes, public and private collections &c,
  6. Legally-binding benefit-sharing from the use of any resources that are currently privatised, and a direct consumer-producer link through contributions from the food industry

(From ITDG Briefing Paper)
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Background Papers are available at: <>; <>, <>, <>

For more information, please contact: Patrick Mulvany ( of Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) in the UK, or François Meienberg ( ) of the Berne Declaration in Switzerland.
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Keeping free access to plant genetic resources for food security

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Civil society organisations fight for free access to seed and food at a Conference of the FAO in Rome

Next week, from June 25 to 30,2001, 160 governments making up the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture hold a make-or-break meeting on an international treaty to keep the genes of the world´s most important food crops in the public domain, with free access for all.

Civil Society Organisations will hold a Press Conference on June 25, 12.00h at the International Press Center in Rome, Centro Stampa Estera, Via dell'Umiltà 83c (First floor).

"Save world food security, Stop Patents on Life!" Greenpeace, GRAIN, GAIA and ITDG will take part.

What is at stake: The free exchange of seeds and plant breeding materials is one of the most important mechanisms for promoting world food security. Free access to these plant genetic resources means access to food and to the means of producing it. The treaty under discussion, the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (the IU) has been called for by the 174 governments who are parties to the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), which was brought to life at the Earth Summit in Rio. One of the central objectives of the CBD is to save biological diversity by financial contributions from the rich countries who benefit from the use of seeds which originate mostly in the poorer countries of the south.

The International Undertaking (IU):

The IU is intended to ensure free access for all who need them to the seeds, and their genes, of the world’s most important crop species, and to protect these resources from privatisation through patenting and other intellectual property claims. It would reconcile the interests of the South with those of the North; industry with farmers; and breeders with international gene banks which hold some 500,000 accessions. Under the International Undertaking the genetic resources of the roughly 30 most important food crops shall be kept in the public domain, with no restriction to their access. If they agree, the IU will go forwards to a full Conference of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in November 2001.

The interest groups: These objectives are challenged by countries like the USA, Canada and New Zealand, putting their industry's interest over food security and Farmer's Rights by claiming exclusive intellectual property rights, including patents, which would block the free access to seed and food. Brazil and other countries try to maximise their economical profit by trying to get money in exchange for allowing patents on their genetic resources. The G77, the majority of African countries and the European Union are trying to move ahead with the original idea of a fair and effective multilateral system.

The role of industry: The industry dominated international breeders association ASSINSEL (International Association of Plant Breeders for the Protection of Plant Varieties) withdrew its previous support for the IU and insisted on having patents without restrictions. In this it is acting against clear, legally binding funding arrangements for the maintenance of the international genebanks and the conservation of "centres of origins", specific areas all over the world where diversity of certain species is particularly high thereby threatening their very existence.

The demands of civil society: Farmers, and non profit organisations working with them, are ringing the alarm. If a fair, equitable and effective IU is not agreed at this crucial Commission meeting, our future will include increasing patenting and privatisation, and consequently increased: loss of food security; loss of farmers’ livelihoods and rights;erosion of agricultural biodiversity. A small group of countries and their multinational agricultural and biotechnology industries must not be allowed to turn biological diversity into private property.

Civil society pressure on the negotiations has been growing. Urging agreement of a fair and effective IU, in February 2001 70 European NGOs wrote jointly to all EU agriculture and environment ministers; and in April 2001 over 320 civil society organisations from 59 countries wrote to the Contact Group negotiators.

At the Commission meeting in Rome, 25-30 June there will be a substantial NGO presence led by eight organisations which have campaigned long and hard in support of farmers’ rights, biodiversity and food security. They will be lobbying the negotiators to strengthen and then agree upon the IU text

CPE Coordination Paysanne Europeene, BE

Berne Declaration, CH

Gaia Foundation, UK

Greenpeace International

IATP: The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, USA

ITDG (Intermediate Technology Development Group), UK

GRAIN: Genetics Resources Action International

RAFI: Rural Advancement Foundation International, USA

Some of their common demands are:

  • Free Access to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, no restriction by exclusive intellectual property systems such as patents
  • Legally binding and internationally controlled payments from those who gain profits to those who conserve and develop biological diversity.


See background document


A Treaty to Save the World's Seeds for the Benefit of All may Fall at the Last Fence" By Patrick Mulvany, ITDG

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