Report of main proceedings for 17 June 1996

4th International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources (ITCPGR-4)

The Fourth International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources (ITCPGR-4) was convened today in Leipzig, Germany and will continue until 23 June 1996. Followingopening statements by the German hosts and FAO officials, the Bureau was elected andthe agenda adopted. The Secretariat then introduced agenda items 4 (ITCPGR-4 in theContext of the FAO Global System and the preparatory process), 5 (Progress Report onthe Revision of the International Undertaking) and 6 (Review of the Report on the Stateof the World’s Plant Genetic Resources). Governments proceeded to make generalcountry statements. Work continues toward agreement on the organization of work.

PLENARY

Jochen Borchert, German Federal Minister of Food, Agriculture and Forestry welcomedall delegates to Leipzig, and emphasized that the main task facing the Conference wasconsensus on GPA, which would be a milestone in the FAO Global System. The Ministerof Agriculture and Food of the Free State of Saxony emphasized the important role ofPGR in maintenance of the world’s cultural heritage, and expressed the hope thatdelegates would agree upon recommendations for future action on PGR. The Lord Mayorof Leipzig noted the symbolic importance of the Conference being held in a city which hadundergone major political changes in the last decade.

Jacques Diouf, Director-General of FAO stated that the Conference is a unique andhistoric event because it is the first time an international conference addresses theconservation and sustainable utilization of PGR. This is a new chapter of a book, thepreface written by farmers over a millennium. While there have been many achievements,he noted that we should not indulge in complacency as large amounts of genetic resourcesare not secure. Many gene banks are technically inadequate as a result of fluctuatingnational and international budgets. The viability of genetic resources is not adequatelyassured and genetic material is poorly documented. He said that there was an inadequateand inequitable sharing of benefits and that national capacity building should beencouraged in this respect.

Given the 800 million people around the world who are inadequately nourished, Dioufemphasized the need for major scientific and technological change similar to the GreenRevolution, and for political will at the highest level to ensure food security.

Following this, the CHAIR delivered his acceptance speech, in which he called upondelegates to demonstrate the common commitment and capacity for compromise whichcharacterized the preparatory process leading to Leipzig. He then appraised delegates ofthe results of the Bureau elections. Based on unanimous agreement that the Bureau wouldbe drawn from the FAO regions, the following Vice-Chairs were elected by acclamation:the U.S. for North America; Venezuela for Latin America and the Caribbean; Egypt forthe Middle East and North Africa; Senegal for Africa; Malaysia for Asia; and Australia forAustralasia and the Pacific.

The President of the second meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP-2) to the CBDdelivered a statement to the ITCPGR-4 which noted the important role of otherconventions in relation to the CBD’s three objectives (biodiversity conservation,sustainable use of its components, and fair and equitable benefit-sharing) and urged otherinternational fora to help achieve these objectives through the CBD’s overarchingframework. The statement also recognized that many CBD Parties are also FAO membersand that this should form a strong basis of common ground from which to buildcomplementary programmes. Based on recommendations from the first meeting of theSBSTTA, the COP-2 statement further highlighted: the comprehensive andmultidisciplinary nature of the CBD; the importance of PGRFA, which are criticalcomponents of biodiversity; the sovereign rights of States over their natural resources; andthe need to make the processes of the ITCPGR-4 and the provisions of the CBD mutuallysupportive, complementary and consistent, in order to enhance the success of both. Thestatement further underscored COP-2’s request that the FAO both present the outcome ofITCPGR-4 and make available the GPA and the Report on the State of the World’s PGR(RSW) to COP-3; and its welcome of FAO’s offer to link its information mechanisms tothe CBD’s Clearing-House Mechanism, operational since May 1996.

The Plenary then considered Agenda item 3, Adoption of the Agenda (ITCPGR/96/1Rev.1). CANADA, supported by the US and VENEZUELA, highlighted that Agenda item6 (the RSW) is a background document which had not been negotiated. The meeting thenadopted the Agenda.

After reconvening the Plenary for its afternoon session, the CHAIR announced that theBureau had not yet agreed on the Organization of Work.

FAO GLOBAL SYSTEM: Jose Esquinas-Alcazar, Secretary of the Commissionon Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA), introduced the document onthe Fourth International Technical Conference in the context of the FAO Global Systemfor the Conservation and Utilization of PGRFA (ITCPGR/96/INF/2).

INTERNATIONAL UNDERTAKING: Gerald Moore, FAO Legal Counsel,introduced the Progress Report on the Revision of the International Undertaking (IU) onPGR (ITCPGR/96/INF/3). He highlighted consideration of access on mutually agreedterms and Farmers’ Rights (FR). He noted that the CGRFA is developing a simplified textof the IU to focus its next round of negotiations.

STATE OF THE WORLD REPORT: The Report (ITCPGR/96/3) wasintroduced by the Secretariat, who summarized the process by which the Report wasprepared, as well as its main findings, and remaining gaps in information. Following this,the FAO clarified that the title of the Report would be modified to reflect its status as abackground FAO document for information purposes.

COUNTRY STATEMENTS: CANADA emphasized the importance ofinternational cooperation in germplasm use and exchange, highlighted the bilateral andmultilateral support provided by Canada in this area and emphasized the importance ofachieving consensus on a GPA. He emphasized that the GPA, in its capacity as a scientificand technical document, would be a unique tool to prioritize and coordinate actions onPGR at the national and international level. The US stated its strong support for theLeipzig process, but expressed surprise that financing for a GPA was on the agenda forthis Conference, despite a decision by the Sixth Session of the Commission not to discussfinancing until after the Leipzig Conference. The EU noted that the GPA must beimplemented on a scientifically sound basis and called for more information on activitiesalready underway at global and national levels.

INDONESIA noted that promoting education should be given higher priority, and thatforest PGR should be recognized. JAPAN said that the Leipzig Conference should befounded on a scientific basis. MALAYSIA said the global scenario had recently changed inlight of both the CBD and the GATT. The GATT recognizes IPRs for plant varietiesunder TRIPs, yet the effects of these property rights remain unknown. GPA shouldexamine growth in “propriety rights over PGR,” and emphasized the need for an“institution” to serve as an incentive mechanism for the fair and equitable sharing ofbenefits arising from the use of PGR. The Biosafety Protocol under the CBD is needed, headded. THE REPUBLIC OF KOREA said that free access to PGR should be exploredand noted that the CBD is an effective tool for the exchange of information.

POLAND noted that the GPA and the Report reflect the understanding that PGR are botha common heritage and a common responsibility and called on countries to adopt theLeipzig Declaration. IRAN congratulated the FAO for its enduring hard work in the areaof PGRFA. ETHIOPIA, later supported by the PHILIPPINES, noted that peasantfarmers’ traditional generosity must be based on reciprocity, both through continued free-flow of PGRFA and funding. He called on the Conference to commit to the legalprotection of farmers’ rights in the commercialization of their intellectual innovations, inthe IU negotiation.

BRAZIL expressed its desire to adopt an implementable GPA which contains a strongfinancial commitment, a solid scientific basis and priority activities, including capacity-building in technology transfer and national programmes. INDIA noted that the output ofITCPGR-4 would be a key input to the World Food Summit, given agrobiodiversity’simportance for world food security. He underscored the importance of bringing togetherthe rights of farmers and plant breeders to meet world food demand in the face of massivepopulation growth. CHINA called for a GPA which contains both financial and politicalcommitments.

The PHILIPPINES noted the GPA’s omission of: the impact of IPR, especially TRIPs;mainstream industrial agriculture as a main cause of genetic erosion; explicit recognition ofindigenous and local rights; and linkage of ex situ and in situ approaches.Calling for consistency with the CBD, in particular sovereign rights over geneticresources, he outlined national access legislation which includes prior informed consent,benefit-sharing and technology transfer. MEXICO outlined its efforts to preserve itsheritage as a country of origin through the establishment of seed banks and researchactivities.

COLOMBIA said that FR, fair access regimes and mechanisms for the preferential transferof technology to countries which are centres of origin of PGR should be the cornerstoneof the Global System, and that countries should not avoid agreements on financing.

KENYA stated that future reports should include implementation. He emphasizedinterdependence over PGRFA and stated that benefits and the burden of conservationmust be shared, in line with the CBD. ECUADOR highlighted conclusions andrecommendations developed at regional meetings not included in the draft GPA, as well asAndean PGR collections and the contribution of peasant communities to PGRconservation. AUSTRALIA called for finalization of the GPA at this meeting and for a setof practical and feasible measures to support conservation of PGRFA, including policieson access, benefits-sharing and ongoing efforts on the IU.

NGOs reporting on their weekend conference on agricultural biodiversity summarized astatement on FR, stating that: farming communities and Indigenous Peoples should haverights over PGR; FR and the rights of Indigenous Peoples are complementary andmutually supportive; and ownership at the local level of intellectual property is collective.FR should also include land rights and the right to participatory agricultural researchsupport.

IN THE CORRIDORS

Delegates reported that there is still discussion as to whether the deliberations of theWorking Group, that met in Rome, 10-12 June to review the GPA, will be accepted asworking text. Considerable progress was made by the WG to remove brackets in theGPA. Many delegations have expressed hope that this revised work will be a starting pointfor discussions. Several countries have stated in the corridors that before commencingsubstantive discussions on the GPA, they are looking for a commitment regarding new andadditional financial resources for its implementation.

THINGS TO LOOK FOR TODAY

PLENARY: States will continue to present country reports this morning. Itremains to be seen whether discussions on the GPA, the next item on the ProvisionalAgenda, will commence today. This will be contingent on a successful resolution ofdifferences between regional groups.

Further information

Participants

Negotiating blocs
African Union
European Union
Non-state coalitions
Farmers
NGOs

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