Continued exchanges of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) are necessary for agricultural research and ensuring global food security. Fair and equitable benefit-sharing is required to reward PGRFA custodians, enable sustainable practices, and inject justice in agricultural research and development. The Multilateral System (MLS) of access and benefit-sharing (ABS) of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) aimed to bridge these considerations, but the benefit-sharing component did not live up to expectations. On Wednesday, the ITPGRFA Working Group on enhancing the functioning of the MLS, first initiated in 2013, resumed negotiations.
Working Group Co-Chairs Michael Ryan (Australia) and Sunil Archak (India) drew attention to the challenging nature of past deliberations and underscored the need to finalize the process of enhancing the MLS by the eleventh meeting of the Treaty’s Governing Body (GB 11) in 2025. ITPGRFA Secretary Kent Nnadozie emphasized that an efficient MLS is key not only for the Treaty but also for contributing to several global goals.
During opening statements, Africa stressed the need to enhance the MLS and invited delegates to “get the job done.” Europe outlined expectations for a realistic process with good balance that leads to GB 11. Latin America and the Caribbean called for a transparent and inclusive process, including regional consultations. North America noted that the “difficult and interesting” task ahead is to decide whether it is possible to reach agreement on a package of measures on enhancing the MLS at GB 11.
The Working Group heard an update by the Co-Chairs on the consultative process undertaken since GB 9, including regional and informal consultations, and key take-aways on the main issues, including digital sequence information (DSI), expansion of the list of crops in Annex 1, and benefit-sharing structure and rates.
Delegates then discussed developments in other relevant fora, including the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), particularly the adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and Decision 15/9 on DSI, the new treaty on marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction, and negotiations on a treaty on pandemics under the World Health Organization.
The Working Group heard a report from Julian Portilla, Meridian Institute, on the informal meeting on DSI/genetic sequence data (GSD), payment rates, and other relevant aspects of the MLS enhancement.
Regarding DSI, Portilla noted broad recognition by participants that commercial use of MLS-derived DSI should trigger monetary benefit-sharing. Reflecting on developments in other fora, he stated that the question has changed from whether the Treaty should include DSI, to whether it should rely on the CBD to collect and distribute benefits from DSI use. He also highlighted options for expansion of Annex 1; and the need for a diversity of funding streams to the Treaty’s Benefit-sharing Fund.
The Working Group then discussed the Co-Chairs’ proposal on enhancing the functioning of the MLS, which addresses key issues and a process for further work, including a proposal to use the “June 2019 draft package” of decisions as a starting point for negotiations. The June 2019 package included a draft revised Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA), an approach to the possible expansion of Annex 1, implementation measures, and elements related to DSI. Participants agreed that the June 2019 package was a good basis for beginning deliberations. They next addressed benefit-sharing from DSI use in the light of CBD developments. They further discussed:
- the preliminary timeline for the Working Group, including suggested milestones and deliverables, and meetings of other relevant fora;
- the role of expert groups and regional consultations; and
- the potential organization of a high-level segment at GB 11.
All ENB photos are free to use with attribution. For the 10th Meeting of the Ad Hoc Open ended Working Group to Enhance the Functioning of the ITPGRFA Multilateral System, please use: Photo by IISD/ENB | Mike Muzurakis.