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[NEW DELHI] The countries with the world's greatest diversity of species have agreed to press for an international treaty covering the fair and sustainable use of their biological resources.

The pledge was made in Delhi, India, at last week's meeting of the Like-Minded Megadiverse Countries (LMMCs), an association of 17 African, Asian and Latin American nations that hold 70 per cent of the world's biodiversity.

According the 'Delhi Declaration' made on Friday (21 January), a "legally binding instrument" should cover how access to genetic resources is granted, how benefits from their exploitation are shared fairly, and how the rights of local communities in relation to their traditional knowledge are protected.

Three key elements would form the basis of the proposed rules.

The first is that biological resources should not be used without the prior informed consent of the country in which they are found. Second, the country of origin and those using the resources should mutually agree terms of use. Finally, patent applications should disclose the country of origin of any biological material or associated traditional knowledge.

The LMMC group plans to push for the proposal to be adopted internationally at future meetings of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

"The results achieved here, for the very first time, have indicated guidelines for our positions in international negotiations and, particularly, the formulation of an international regime for access and benefit-sharing under the Convention of Biological Diversity," said Brazil's environment minister Marina Silva.

The main concern of the LMMCs is that current international legal frameworks do not offer member countries sufficient protection from large companies who might patent and commercialise the countries' biological resources without sharing benefits with local communities.

Olivier Jalbert, principal officer for social, economic and legal affairs at the Convention on Biological Diversity's secretariat, told delegates at the meeting that a comprehensive international framework could explore the need for, and feasibility of, an international certificate of origin of biological resources.

The Delhi meeting also agreed that countries should develop national legislation to regulate access to genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge.

The countries agreed to create a Megadiverse Cooperation Fund to support projects in member countries for developing mechanisms to ensure equitable sharing of benefits that arise from exploitation of biological resources.

During the meeting, several countries said creating inventories of biodiversity data was an important area of collaboration between LMMCs.

A crucial issue that is evading consensus, however, is how to handle prior informed consent in cases where the same biological resource is found in more than one country, or where traditional knowledge about the same resource is shared by several countries. Delegates said more discussions were needed to solve this issue.

The LMMC group was formed in 2002 to promote a common agenda on conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity (see Developing nations link up against biopiracy).

Its members are Bolivia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa and Venezuela.

The meeting, organised in cooperation with the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and United Nations Development Programme, was attended by ministers, experts, government officials and various stakeholders.