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[BEIJING] To benefit from genetic resources, developing countries need to improve their governance, a meeting in Beijing was told this week (4 September).

Developing countries are losing out because their laws do not specify which resources should be paid for and how, said Gurdial Singh Nijar, a law professor at the University of Malaya in Malaysia.

He made his remarks at an international workshop on genetic resources and indigenous knowledge, supported by the UN Convention of Biological Diversity.

The Access and Benefit Sharing of Genetic Resources (ABS) mechanism calls for developed countries to pay for the collection and use of plant or animal species that they obtain for commercial use from the developing world.

But, said Nijar, the resource users — mostly developed country companies and institutions — can easily overcome international legal duties on benefit-sharing by paying minimal money to local communities.

This is due to the lack of a legal definition of what constitutes payable genetic resources, and clarity on who owns these resources: national governments or local communities of origin.

Chee Yoke Ling, legal advisor to the Third World Network, an international network of development organisations, agreed, saying developing countries need to adjust their patent systems.

Many systems favour the knowledge and expertise of developed countries, rather than supporting the indigenous knowledge of genetic resources in the developing world, she said.

Nijar said that implementing genetic resource legislation would strengthen developing world countries' status in international negotiations.

But Wang Canfa, from China Politics and Law University — and the major drafter of China's biosafety and biodiversity regulations — says attempts to legislate on biodiversity use in China have been suspended since 2006 because government departments are arguing over who should govern the area.

Seizo Sumida, from Japan's Bioindustry Association, says in the absence of genetic resource legislation, the best option is to set up international partnerships.

Japan has formed a collaborative consortium with 11 Asian countries, including China, Mongolia, Myanmar and Vietnam, to research their natural genetic resources and share the benefits, Sumida says (see Scientists search for new microbes in Mongolia).