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[BOGOTA] After nine years of meetings about international rules on providing equitable resources, a major step was reached last week (22–28 March) with agreement on a draft text that is intended to form the basis of a protocol on access and benefit sharing.

At the Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group on Access and Benefit-sharing of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which met in Cali, Colombia, representatives from 193 countries agreed to use the draft as the basis of a protocol to be submitted to the tenth Conference of the Parties to the CBD, which will be held in October in Nagoya, Japan.

The UN hailed the meeting as a great step forward in the quest to use the world's biodiversity fairly.

"Cali has entered history as the birthplace of the draft Nagoya Protocol on access and benefit sharing," said Ahmed Djoghlaf, the UN's executive secretary to the CBD.

But the draft remains highly controversial, and participants have been forced to arrange a further, week-long meeting to take place in Canada in July to prepare the draft for October's meeting in Nagoya.

Agreeing a protocol is one of the three objectives of the CBD. The goal is to ensure that benefits arising from the use of genetic resources from plants, animals or microorganisms are shared in a fair and equitable way with local communities or countries that provide them.

"We expected a bigger step, but undoubtedly Cali's text is a step forward," said Oscar Lizarazo, legal consultant for GeBiX, the Colombian Centre for Genomics and Bioinformatics of Extreme Environments.

Krystyna Swiderska, a senior researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development in the United Kingdom, said: "The real negotiations on a draft protocol only started on Thursday and I was not entirely surprised to hear that the negotiations broke down on Friday evening, given the very divergent positions between parties.

"The industrialised countries want easy access to genetic resources in other countries," she said. "If they have their way, the protocol will at most require compliance with existing legislation in the developing countries.

"On the other hand the biodiversity-rich developing countries want to assert national sovereignty over biological resources, and to ensure that the protocol binds industrialised countries to sharing any benefits."

Industrialised countries also want the protocol to focus only on genetic resources, while developing countries want to ensure that derivatives and traditional knowledge are included, added Swiderska.

"And industrialised nations want compliance with the protocol to be enforced through individual contracts for example between drug companies and governments while developing nations want to include [legal] measures for compliance with the protocol itself," she said.

Link to draft text [540kB]