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First Meeting of the CGRFA acting as Interim Committee for the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
Rome, Italy | 9 - 11 October 2002
The first Meeting of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) acting as the Interim Committee for the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGR) was held from 9-11 October 2002, at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) headquarters in Rome. Approximately 280 participants from 99 countries and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations attended the meeting.
According to FAO Conference Resolution 3/2001 on the adoption of the Treaty and interim arrangements for its implementation, the Interim Committee was convened to: adopt its rules of procedure; consult with the International Agricultural Research Centres (IARCs) on the agreements to be signed with the Treaty's Governing Body; agree on the terms of reference (TOR) for the expert group on the terms of the standard Material Transfer Agreement (MTA); and initiate cooperative arrangements with the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
During the Committee's first session, delegates adopted the rules of procedure for the Interim Committee and established an open-ended expert working group to propose draft rules of procedure and financial rules, and draft procedures for compliance. After a lengthy debate, they also finalized the TOR for the expert group on the MTA. The other elements of the work programme, namely consultation with the IARCs, international cooperation and the funding strategy for the Treaty will be considered at the second session of the Interim Committee, which is to be held by 2004.
Overall, delegates expressed general satisfaction with agreement on procedural issues, a necessary pre-condition for addressing substance when the Treaty enters into force. The pace of negotiations was noticeably slow, but understandable in light of the number and complexity of issues to be addressed.
More specifically delegates highlighted the strengthening of language on decision making by consensus as a positive step, particularly in building trust among countries. The debate on the TOR of the MTA expert group was arduous and lengthy, reminiscent of the difficult Treaty negotiations and foreshadowing the problems the Governing Body will have to resolve. It was often reiterated that the expert group would be technical in nature, and many stated that too much time was spent discussing such an advisory group for the Interim Committee which in turn will only make recommendations to the Governing Body. Others commented that the lengthy debate on minute details was politically motivated, with some countries trying to influence the substantive debate prior to the constitution of the Governing Body. Additionally, the lengthy discussion on the expert group's composition and representation further highlighted these political sensitivities. Although, the final result was viewed as a compromise, package deal, some participants still expressed their surprise and dissatisfaction at the decision not to include a CBD representative, despite the inclusion of representatives from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), and notwithstanding the specific references to the CBD in the Treaty's text and the Convention's work on access.
Until the Interim Committee's next meeting, when delegates will have to consider the remaining agenda items, a lot will depend on the work of the two expert groups. In the end, it will culminate at the first meeting of the Governing Body, which will consider the Committee's recommendations. Parties will then have to decide on the most contentious issues, thereby shaping the future of the Treaty.
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