Hundred and Twentieth Session
Rome, 18-23 June 2001
NEGOTIATIONS ON THE REVISED
INTERNATIONAL UNDERTAKING ON PLANT GENETIC RESOURCES,
II. Progress since the Hundred and Nineteenth Session of the Council
III. Process for submitting the revised International Undertaking to the Thirty-first Session of the FAO Conference
1. The International Undertaking was adopted by the FAO Conference, as Resolution 8/83. It was the first comprehensive instrument on plant genetic resources. It seeks to "ensure that plant genetic resources of economic and/or social interest, particularly for agriculture, will be explored, preserved, evaluated and made available for plant breeding and scientific purposes". A number of agreed interpretations were subsequently negotiated through the Commission, adopted as Conference Resolutions in 1989 and 1991, and annexed to the International Undertaking.
2. The Undertaking is monitored by the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, of which 160 countries and the European Community are currently members; 113 countries1 have adhered to the Undertaking. I am at present the Chairman of the Commission.
3. In 1992, the Agreed Text of the Convention on Biological Diversity was adopted in Nairobi, Kenya. In adopting the Convention, countries adopted Resolution 3 of the Final Act, which recognized that access to ex situ collections not acquired in accordance with the Convention, and Farmers' Rights, were outstanding matters which the Convention had not addressed, for which solutions should be sought within FAO's Global System on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, of which the International Undertaking is the corner-stone. In 1992, UNCED called for the strengthening of the FAO Global System and its adjustment in line with the Convention on Biological Diversity, as well as for the realization of Farmers' Rights.
4. At its Twenty-seventh Session, Conference accordingly adopted Resolution 7/93, which requested the Director-General to provide a forum for negotiation among governments for:
5. Negotiations began at the Commission's First Extraordinary Session in November 1994, and have continued at three regular and four extraordinary sessions. Donor governments have provided extra-budgetary resources for this process, as needed, including to facilitate the participation of delegations from developing countries. Progress in the negotiations has been regularly reported to the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which has repeatedly stressed its support.4
6. In November 1998, following a difficult passage in the negotiations, I reported5 to the Hundred and Fifteenth Session of the Council that, because Members' and Regions' positions on certain issues remained distinct and distant, the Commission had mandated me to hold consultations, in order to assess the situation. I proposed (and the Council supported my proposal) that I convene an informal meeting of a group of experts, in order to help me identify areas of possible compromise, and prepare Chairman's draft elements for relevant articles. The Council requested me to report to it in June 1999 on progress in the negotiations.
7. In June 1999, I was pleased to be able to report to the Hundred and Sixteenth Session of the Council that the Informal Expert Meeting, held in Montreux, Switzerland, in January 1999, had indeed enabled me to draw up a series of Chairman's Elements, which reflected a broad consensus, and that the Commission, at its Eighth Regular Session in April 1999, had then decided to use these Elements as the basis for subsequent negotiations. I also reported that the Commission had given me the mandate to convene (in consultation with the Director-General, and subject to the availability of funds) meetings of the Chairman's Contact Group that had been established to facilitate the negotiations,6 as well as an Extraordinary Session of the Commission to adopt the final text, when ready. The Council endorsed this mandate, and recommended that a report on progress in the negotiations be considered by the Conference at its Thirtieth session in November 1999.
8. I reported to the Conference7 that I had convened the First Inter-sessional Meeting of the Contact Group from 20 to 24 September 1999, and that the political will to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion appeared to exist. The Conference considered that the Undertaking was at the meeting point between agriculture, the environment and commerce, and that early success in these negotiations would allow the agricultural sector to shape solutions that took its specific needs into account. It considered that much work would still be needed in order to finalize the negotiations in the year 2000, and confirmed that the negotiations would proceed on the basis that the Undertaking would take the form of a legally-binding instrument, closely linked to FAO and the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Conference requested that the text of the revised International Undertaking be finalized, as planned, for submission to the Hundred and Nineteenth Session of the Council, in November 2000.
9. Between the Hundred and Eighteenth Session of the Council and the Hundred and Nineteenth Session of the Council, the Contact Group held three further meetings, (in Rome, from 3 to 7 April 2000, in Tehran, from 26 to 31 August 2000, and in Neuchâtel, from 12 to 17 November 2000). In this period, I also reported to the Fifth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which met in Nairobi, Kenya, from 15 to 26 May 2000, on progress in the overall negotiations.8 In urging that that revision of the International Undertaking be completed as soon as possible, the Conference of the Parties, by Decision V/26, noted that "The International Undertaking is envisaged to play a crucial role in the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Conference of the Parties affirms its willingness to consider a decision by the Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations that the International Undertaking become a legally binding instrument with strong links to both the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Convention on Biological Diversity, and calls upon Parties to coordinate their positions in both forums".
10. As I reported to the Hundred and Nineteenth Session of the Council,9 the negotiations in Neuchâtel had been complex, for which reason further time was needed to complete the negotiations. I stated that, for the negotiations to be concluded, I believed that a clear demonstration of political will was necessary, and that the delegations participating in the negotiations would need to be of a sufficient level for it to be possible for decisions to be taken in the negotiations themselves. The Council accordingly "reaffirmed its commitment to the finalization of the revised International Undertaking within the auspices of FAO, invited [me] to continue leading the negotiations to their conclusion and requested [me] to convene, in consultation with the Director-General and subject to the availability of funding, further sessions of the Contact Group as required, followed by a negotiating session of the Commission to finalize and agree upon the text of the International Undertaking for submission to the Thirty-first Session of the Conference in November 2001". The Council also "recognized that the negotiations had reached a crucial stage and encouraged the negotiators to focus intensively and with requisite flexibility on the outstanding issues and be in a position to take the relevant political decisions to conclude the revision of the Undertaking", and "appealed to Members to provide further funds that would be necessary to maintain and increase the momentum, both for the preparation and holding of the necessary negotiating meetings, and for facilitating the participation of developing countries".
11. Two further meetings of the Contact Group have been held with extra-budgetary resources: in Rome (5 to 10 February 2001) and in Spoleto, Italy (22 to 28 April 2001), the latter generously hosted by the Government of Italy. Before the Spoleto meeting, I prepared, in consultation with the members of the Bureau, a Chair's Proposal for a Simplified Text, which was consistent with the agreed framework of the Montreux Chairman's Elements and which suggested a revised structure of the articles. In doing so, I removed brackets and provided a single text where it appeared to me that consensus might be possible, seeking always a balance between the expressed opinions of the regions, and to put no one region or country into an impossible position. At the Spoleto meeting, the Contact Group decided that the Simplified Text should now be used as the basis of negotiations.
12. In the Spoleto meeting, we reviewed and agreed considerable sections of this text. We also established three Working Groups: a Legal Working Group, which advised on the procedural articles; a Working Group for the List of Crops to which the Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-sharing will apply; and a Technical Working Group on the Use of Terms. These all made considerable progress.
13. Although it is clear that a number of key questions still remain to be agreed, and that a spirit of political will and compromise is as necessary as ever, it was agreed at the Spoleto meeting that the conclusion of the negotiations was within reach, and that the Sixth Extraordinary Session of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture should be convened from 24 to 30 June 2001, immediately following the Hundred and Twentieth Session of the Council, in order to agree upon the text and submit it to the Thirty-first Session of the Conference in November 2001. I have accordingly proposed to the Director-General that he convene this extraordinary session.
14. As the Council noted, the convening of this session is dependent on donors making the necessary extra-budgetary resources available. At the time of preparing this note (in the second week of May), adequate funds were not yet to hand.
15. Following the finalization of the text of the revised International Undertaking at the Sixth Extraordinary Session of the Commission, the Director-General will need to transmit it to FAO Member and international organizations, in accordance with Article XXI.1 of the General Rules of the Organization, at least 90 days before the FAO Conference, that is, by the end of July 2001.
16 It is the practice that such Agreements also be considered by the Committee on Constitutional and Legal Matters (CCLM) prior to consideration by the Conference or Council. It would be appropriate that the CCLM consider this matter, in view of the relationship of the International Undertaking to the Convention on Biological Diversity. A session of the CCLM is planned for 1 to 2October 2001.
17. The Hundred and Twenty-first Session of the Council (30 October to 1 November), would then consider the text, including possible recommendations by the CCLM, and transmit it to the Thirty-first Session of the FAO Conference for adoption.
1 Including two countries not members of FAO: Liechtenstein and Russia.
2 While the Convention on Biological Diversity covers all types of biological diversity, the scope of the Undertaking is limited to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.
3 This formula, adopted after careful negotiations, although limited to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, is not limited only to ex situ collections not addressed by the Convention.
4 In 1995, Decision II/15 recognized the special nature of agricultural biodiversity, its distinctive features and problems needing distinctive solutions, and declared its support for the revision of the Undertaking.
5 CL 115/13.
6 The Contact Group currently comprises Angola, Argentina, Australia, Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Canada, China, Colombia, Cuba, Ethiopia, European Community, France, Germany, India, Islamic Republic of Iran, Japan, Korea (Republic of), Libya, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Samoa, Senegal, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay, Venezuela, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
7 C 99/9.
9 CL 119/7, supplemented by a verbal report on the Neuchâtel meeting, which was held immediately before the Council session.