International negotiations over use of biodiversity continue

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

As negotiations over the international use of biodiversity-based products continue, concerns are voiced over what will be covered by future regulations and how they will be enforced.

Negotiations, including the recent meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Cali, Colombia, are looking to develop legally binding international rules on how to share the benefits resulting from the use of biodiversity-related resources. The principal is based on the CBD’s recognition of the rights of countries and communities over their resources and knowledge.

Future regulation on Access and Benefit Sharing will affect the way cosmetics and fragrance companies do business when they are sourcing new, innovative ingredients from biodiversity-rich areas.

Definition of genetic resources

Although significant progress was made at the Cali meeting - for the first time a draft document that resembled the final protocol has been developed – a number of controversial points remain.

One of the questions that remains unanswered is the scope of the protocol in terms of which biodiversity-related resources will be covered by resulting regulation.

“ABS rules in the CBD currently apply only to genetic resources but this can be defined in a number of different ways,”​ explained Maria Julia Oliva, senior adviser on Access and Benefit Sharing for the Union for Ethical Biotrade (an organisation that aims to promote the ethical trade of biodiversity-based products).

“Developing countries want it to be clear that this protocol will apply to genetic resources and​ their derivatives,”​ she told

This would widen dramatically the substances expressly covered by the protocol and would significantly affect the actions of organisations dealing with biodiversity-based ingredients. Most of these organisations are located in so-called "user countries," which according to Oliva were not ready to accept the word derivative.

Although there was initial agreement from the EU, Canada and Australia, that benefit sharing would extend to genetic resources and their ‘expression, replication and characterisation’, negotiations crumbled over the word derivative.

Compliance and monitoring

Another issue that remains unresolved is how the protocol, if and when it is internationally accepted, will be enforced.

“From the perspective of developing countries, compliance is key. We have had these principles for a long time but we need a system to ensure compliance”​ Oliva said.

The article relating to compliance in the draft document, which provided the basis for negotiations at the recent meeting, is relatively detailed and describes a system of compliance and monitoring that would involve the disclosure of significant amounts of information at several stages.

According to Oliva, this is a concern for some as it could become very burdensome on organisations wishing to enter into trade and research on such products.

October deadline

The publication date for a final protocol is set for October and although much remains to be decided, the CBD are confident that this will be respected.

Parties of the CBD, which includes the majority of the world’s countries but not the US, will then have to sign the protocol and ratify it within their respective national governing systems before they can implement it.

Implications of the CBD's negotiations for cosmetics, fragrance and food companies will be discussed in more detail at the Union for Ethical BioTrade's Sourcing with Respect conference on April 16 in Paris.

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