CL 119/7


Hundred and Nineteenth Session

Rome, 20-25 November 2000



Table of Contents





I. Background

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 FAO Council, in November 2000.

II. Progress since the Thirtieth Session of the FAO Conference

9. At the time of writing (mid-October 2000), the Contact Group had met on two further occasions: the Second Inter-sessional Meeting was in Rome, from 3 to 7 April 2000, and the Third was in Tehran, from 26 to 31 August 2000, at the generous invitation of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

10. The Second Inter-sessional Meeting focused on a number of the most controversial Articles, where elements of consensus emerged regarding three key articles. These were Article 13: Facilitated Access; Article 14.2(d): The Sharing of Monetary Benefits on Commercialization, where proposals were made for a fixed sharing of royalties to be paid, in the case of patents, or any form of commercial protection restricting further access to the genetic material in the Multilateral System of Facilitated Access and Benefit-sharing, and for benefit-sharing through partnerships with industry; and Article 16: Financial Resources, in particular in relation to the mobilization of multi-source funding for agreed programmes and projects. This resulted, for the first time, in a coherent negotiating text for the overall Undertaking, and a good understanding of the inter-relationship between issues.

11. I then 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". The Conference of the Parties also stressed "that it is important that, in developing national legislation on access, Parties take into account and allow for the development of a multilateral system to facilitate access and benefit-sharing in the context of the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources".

12. The Third Inter-sessional Meeting was probably the most fruitful to date, not least because of the excellent facilities put at our disposal by the host government. There were important breakthroughs on longstanding, controversial issues. The Contact Group was able to clean up much of Articles 13 and 14, and part of Article 16. The regional groups proposed lists of crops for coverage in the multilateral system. There were major breakthroughs in the text on conditions of access (including the decision not to track individual accessions and exclusion from the Multilateral System of access for chemical, pharmaceutical and/or other non-food/feed industry uses); the sharing of benefits (including exchange of information, access to and transfer of technology, and capacity-building); and the sharing of (monetary) benefits on commercialization. Such benefits are to include partnerships and collaboration with the public and private sectors, and royalties from products of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture within the multilateral system, which are subject to intellectual property rights or commercial protection in a manner that restricts further utilization of the product for research and plant breeding. For forms of protection that allow the further use of the genetic resources in the final product, voluntary contributions are foreseen, and the governing body will review this provision, to assess the possibility of establishing a mandatory scheme. It was also agreed that the Governing Body will consider modalities for an additional strategy to mobilize voluntary benefit-sharing contributions from food-processing industries. The significant progress that was made, however, brought certain delegations to the limit of their mandates, for which reason some wished to consult their capitals in relation to certain paragraphs.

13. In order to build on the advances in the Tehran meeting, and conscious of the request of the Conference that the revised Undertaking be presented to the Hundred and Nineteenth Session of the Council, the Contact Group requested me to consult countries to assess whether it would be possible to convene an extraordinary session of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture from 9 to 20 October 2000, in order to complete the negotiations and adopt the final text. This meeting was contingent on adequate extra-budgetary resources being made available, and I accordingly wrote to donor countries, requesting them to make available the extra-budgetary funds that would be required both to cover the preparation and running of the meeting and to support the participation of developing countries. (An estimated US $ 740,000, in addition to sums in hand, was required.)

14. In my consultations with Governments, countries from a number of regions—while believing that the successful conclusion of negotiations was now in sight as a result of the far-reaching advances that were made in Tehran—stated that they needed more time for national consultations. Others urged that the momentum be maintained, perhaps through a Contact Group Meeting. A number of countries had already made available further substantial sums for the completion of the negotiating process, and others were still considering possible contributions. I therefore decided to convene a Fourth Inter-sessional Meeting of the Contact Group in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, from 12 to 17 November 2000, generously hosted by Switzerland.

15. I shall report to the Council, which immediately follows this meeting, on the outcome.

16. It is my conviction that the negotiating process is close to a successful completion. My intention is therefore to then request the Director-General to convene a conclusive, two-week extraordinary session of the Commission in early 2001, to finalize and adopt the text of the revised International Undertaking, which could then be submitted to the Hundred and Twentieth Session of the Council in June 2001. The extraordinary session will be subject to the remaining extra-budgetary funds required (some $350,000) being made available.

17. The completion of the negotiations for the revision of the International Undertaking will result in a major, legally binding new international instrument, which will provide Governments with solutions to their specific needs in relation to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity, and with strong links to both the FAO and the Convention, thereby underwriting food security and sustainable development in all regions.


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, Switzerland, Tanzania, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay, Venezuela, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

7  C 99/9.