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[CURITIBA] Delegates at a major UN conference on biodiversity are struggling to reach a consensus on rules concerning access to genetic resources and traditional knowledge, and the sharing of any subsequent benefits.

Representatives of countries that are party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) are meeting in Curitiba, Brazil, until 31 March to debate the issues.

On the table are proposals to set up an international certification scheme that would ensure that any genetic material used in research can be traced to its country of origin.

Also under discussion is the possibility of setting up a system through which countries would need to give their informed consent before allowing any exploitation of their genetic resources.

Australian delegate Tony Slatyer says it is too early to predict the debate's outcome.

"We want a realistic process allowing time for these issues to be discussed among parties," he says. "It is unrealistic to think that everything can be sorted out in Curitiba or that these issues are somehow just going to disappear."

A key point of disagreement is whether an international regime should include products derived from genetic resources in addition to unprocessed resources.

Tewolde Egziabher, representative of Ethiopia and the Africa group, says it should, and that benefits arising from the sale of products based on traditional knowledge should also be shared with the countries and communities of origin.

"If we have a contract, we can use it to ensure that no one is cheating," he says, though he accepts that it would not always be possible to know whether foreign companies broke the rules.

The text of a draft agreement on the issues — prepared by a CBD working group that met in Spain earlier this year — is set almost entirely in parentheses, indicating a lack of consensus.

According to Venezuelan delegate Cesar Molina Rodríguez, however,  "at least the Granada meeting provided a concrete document on which to work, instead of the messy storm that we had in Bangkok [in 2005], when negotiations began".

Representatives of 173 of the 187 countries that are party to the CBD are attending the ongoing meeting in Brazil.

Rules on access and benefit-sharing drafted at CBD meeting in Spain (see annexe)
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