Friday, June 23, 2006

International Plant Genetic Resources Treaty - First Session

The First Session of the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGR) took place 12-16 June in Madrid. With attendance by representatives of parties to the Treaty, other governments, intergovernmental organisations, non-governmental or civil society organisations, and industry, the First Session was described by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), as making "great progress." The Governing Body came to agreement on several issues before the international body before it, including the adoption of a standard Material Transfer Agreement (MTA), which sets out the conditions for access and benefit-sharing.

The ITPGR was adopted in November 2001, at the 31st Session of FAO Conference, after 7 years of negotiations. The Treaty then remained open for signature by all FAO members and any States that are not Member of the FAO, but are Members of the United Nations (UN) or any of its specialized agencies. There are 103 parties to the Treaty, which entered into force, 29 June 2004, 3 months after it reached the required number of instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession, as per Article 28.

The Treaty's subject matter - plant genetic resources for food and agriculture - is defined in the Treaty as "any genetic material of plant origin of actual or potential value for food and agriculture" (Article 2). In harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Treaty is concerned with the conservation and sustainable use of such resources, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from their use (Art 3).

The First Session of the Governing Body agreed upon the text for a standard Material Transfer Agreement (MTA). The standard MTA has been in development since 2004. The MTA Expert Group met in October of that year to discuss various issues raised by the First Meeting of hte ITPGR Interim Committee (which met for the first time in 2002). At this time, the Expert Group recommended the establishment of an intersessional contact group to draft the standard MTA.

The first meeting of the MTA Contact Group took place in July 2005 and, at its second meeting in April this year, finalised the draft to be considered by the Governing Body at its First Session.

After extended debates at the First Session, the final MTA was adopted with amendments on Friday 16th. The most contentious issue was that of the rates and modalities of payment for benefit-sharing - this is the payment made by a recipient. A Friends of the Chair group was convened to finalise this issue, taking late into the Friday evening to reach agreement. The rate agreed was 1.1% of product sales for commercialisation where that product is not made available to others for further research and breeding. Where the product is sold with no restriction on further research and breeding, the discounted rate of 0.5% would apply.

A excellent summary of the First Session debates is provided by the Earth Negotiations Bulletin.

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