ROME, 6 November 2002 -- The United States has added its signature to an International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources which aims to ensure better use of genetic diversity to meet the challenge of eradicating world hunger, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Wednesday.

The US joins the 76 other countries and the European Union, who have signed the Treaty since it was adopted exactly a year ago by the FAO Conference. The United States, along with Japan, was one of two countries who had originally abstained from voting on the Treaty, approved with 116 votes.

"I understand that this signing is a kind of reversal from what we said just about a year ago," Tony P. Hall, US Ambassador to FAO, said as he added his signature. "But we have seen the wisdom of the Treaty and are very glad to sign it," he added. States that have signed the Treaty may now ratify it. Other states may now accede to the Treaty directly, without needing to first sign it.

The Treaty is a unique comprehensive international agreement, the fruit of almost a quarter of a century of negotiations, which aims to guarantee the future availability of the diversity of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits.

The Treaty also recognises Farmers' Rights and establishes a multilateral system of access and benefit-sharing for 64 crops and plants that are fundamental to food security.

The Treaty on Plant Genetic Resource will enter into force once ratified or acceded to by 40 countries, and the Treaty's Governing Body will then meet. The Governing Body will then take important decisions on how the agreement is implemented. The Governing body will consider, for example, the sharing of the benefits arising from the use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, including through capacity-building, the transfer of technology and the payment of an equitable share of the commercial benefits derived from the use of genetic resources. It will also adopt a standard material transfer agreement for genetic resources from the multilateral system.

"The speed with which countries have signed this agreement, the fruit of 23 years of discussions and formal negotiations, shows that countries have a mutual interest in preserving their plant genetic resources," said Mr. José Esquinas-Alcázar, Secretary of FAO's Commission on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA). "We are sure that they will also be as quick in ratifying the Treaty," he added.