UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Developing countries called on Wednesday for renewed efforts to agree a U.N. protocol to control access to genetic resources, a step with potentially huge implications for drug companies.
Countries with a rich variety of plant and animal species, including Brazil, India and Colombia, say the measure would help end centuries of “bio-piracy” and ensure developing countries benefit from discoveries based on native species or traditional medicine.
Bio-piracy refers to the commercial exploitation of plants or other genetic matter without adequately compensating the communities where they are found.
“Countries like Brazil and India have been victims of bio-piracy over many decades and we need to protect our bio-resources and we have to protect our traditional knowledge,” Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh told reporters during the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
The protocol on “access and benefit sharing” was expected to be finalized at talks in Montreal earlier this week and then adopted at a meeting in Japan next month. However, diplomats failed to finalize a draft.
“Between now and Nagoya, it is up to the ministers to find the political solution to some of the issues,” Ramesh said. The minister said the protocol would put controls over the commercial use of traditional knowledge as well as genetic resources such as plant species.
The so-called ABS protocol would, among other things, affect how and when researchers, universities, and companies from developed countries could use genes from plants or animals that originate in developing countries.
For example, it would set rules on how and when drug companies could use plants from the Amazon forest in their work and it would commit them to share the benefits or royalties of any discoveries with the indigenous peoples of the area.
Colombia’s Vice Minister for the Environment Carlos Castano said agreement on the protocol was vital to ensure “the benefits of biodiversity reach indigenous local communities.”
Officials in developing countries say it will also help safeguard their property rights.
“In Brazil we had a fruit whose name was patented by another country ... and we had a fight over the right to use the name of our fruit in our products,” said Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado, Brazil’s lead climate negotiator, referring to the Acai berry.
“We won that fight but that’s the kind of uncertainty we want to overcome with this new regime.”
The protocol is part of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, which recognizes the sovereign rights of states over their natural resources in areas within their jurisdiction and legally binds countries to conserve biological diversity.