Consensus within Reach for Plant Treaty Working Group to Revise ABS System
Photo by Arturo Rivera
story highlights

The Working Group reached tentative compromise to amend Annex I of the Treaty (list of crops in the Multilateral System), and agreed on procedural steps to allow for simultaneous adoption of the revised Standard Material Transfer Agreement and the amendment of Annex I.

The Working Group made significant progress on the specific provisions of the SMTA, with genetic sequence data and the specific rates for benefit-sharing payments remaining as the main outstanding issues.

The meeting was suspended to allow for three additional days of deliberation before the eighth session of the Treaty’s Governing Body in November 2019.

23 June 2019: A working group meeting on access and benefit-sharing of plant genetic resources made progress on a listing of crops and revising the agreement for exchange of material. The meeting was suspended to allow for additional deliberation before a Governing Body in November 2019.

The ninth meeting of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group to Enhance the Functioning of the Multilateral System (MLS) of access and benefit-sharing (ABS) of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) convened from 17-21 June 2019, at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), in Rome, Italy.

Delegates reached tentative compromise to amend Annex I of the Treaty (list of crops in the MLS), to include all plant genetic resources for food and agriculture under the management and control of parties and in the public domain, in ex situ conditions, while allowing for reasoned national exemptions regarding a limited number of native species.

Delegates also made significant progress on revising the Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA) used for exchanges of material in the MLS, in order to enhance monetary benefit-sharing. The Working Group agreed on a package of measures, also known as the “growth plan,” including a series of procedural steps to allow for simultaneous adoption of the revised SMTA and the amendment of Annex I, and a time period for ratification and entry into force of the new Annex I.

Negotiations continued on the draft revised SMTA. The Working Group made significant progress in detailing the envisaged subscription system for access to MLS crops, while also providing for access to the MLS with no subscription, as an exception. Delegates addressed technical provisions, regarding, inter alia, dispute settlement, obligations of the recipient of material in case of withdrawal from the SMTA, and transfers of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture that are still under development. The Working Group also dealt with historically controversial issues, such as the role of intellectual property rights and their relationship with benefit-sharing and farmers’ rights, mapping options for potential compromise and packages to be presented to the Governing Body. Benefit-sharing from transfers of genetic sequence data (also addressed as digital sequence information), and the specific rates for benefit-sharing payments are the main outstanding issues. As a result, the meeting was suspended, to allow for additional time to finalize negotiations, following consultations at the national and regional level. The Working Group will reconvene for three days before the eighth session of the Treaty’s Governing Body (GB 8), which will take place from 11-16 November 2019, in Rome, Italy. GB 8 is expected to adopt the amended Annex I of the Treaty and the revised SMTA.

The Working Group is composed of up to 30 representatives: up to five from Europe; up to five from Asia; up to five from Latin America and the Caribbean; up to three from the Near East; up to two from North America; and up to two from Southwest Pacific. Up to two representatives from each of the following groups may participate as observers: civil society organizations; the seed industry; farmers’ organizations; and the CGIAR Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR Consortium). The Working Group was first established by the fifth session of the Governing Body (September 2013, Muscat, Oman) with a mandate to enhance the Treaty’s MLS. It has since focused on the revision of the SMTA and elaboration of a subscription system for user-based payments to the MLS, and, more recently, on options for possible adaptation of the MLS coverage. [IISD Meeting Coverage]


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