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[BOGOTÁ] Colombia has approved a policy that will map out plans for sustainable commercial use of its rich biodiversity resources, mainly through the development of biotechnology research.

The policy, approved by the government last month (14 June), includes plans to set up a national company for bioprospecting to link up with the commercial sector. It will be backed with US$14 million in government funds over the next four years.

Colombia's goal is to enable the development of industries and products based on the sustainable use of its biodiversity. The country is home to ten per cent of the world's known biodiversity.

The new policy should reduce the bottleneck created by the current regulations on access to genetic resources, Mauricio Rodríguez, manager of the biotechnology programme at the National Department for Science, Technology and Innovation and co-author of the document, told SciDev.Net. He said that new, more efficient regulations based on the policy will be ready in a month.

Juan Lucas Restrepo, director of the Colombian Corporation of Agricultural Research, a public research institute, welcomed the policy. He said the current legislation on access and benefit-sharing is not working adequately.

But Fernando Casas, a Colombian economist and a co-chair of the Intergovernmental Committee of the Nagoya Protocol, said it would be difficult to adapt this policy to the existing Andean Community of Nations agreement to which Colombia is a signatory.

The Andean agreement stresses sustainable conservation and the importance of recognising benefit-sharing with indigenous and local people, while the Colombian one stresses the importance of commercialising biodiversity through biotechnology research.

Some Colombian scientists have also said that the main obstacles in research on biodiversity resources are bureaucracy and lack of expertise within the Ministry of Environment — which are not addressed in this policy. This leads to delayed decisions in approval of licenses to get access to genetic resources.

Casas welcomed the policy as overdue but said it does not advance the three goals of the Convention on Biological Diversity — conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from using genetic resources.

He also warned that the document does not analyse the policy's possible effects on Colombia's Free Trade Agreement with United States, which has been in negotiation for years, especially with regards to its impact on intellectual property.

Link to full policy document (in Spanish)