Uncertainty Clouds UN Talks On Biopiracy Treaty

Uncertainty clouds UN talks on biopiracy treaty

UN talks to create a global treaty to combat biopiracy and the exploitation of genetic resources hung in the balance Thursday, a day before an agreement was due to be signed

Geneva, (APP - UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 23rd May, 2024) UN talks to create a global treaty to combat biopiracy and the exploitation of genetic resources hung in the balance Thursday, a day before an agreement was due to be signed.

Talks at the United Nations' World Intellectual Property Organization were supposed to start at 9:30 am (0730 GMT) on Thursday but had not kicked off several hours later. There was no new timetable communicated by WIPO.

"Delegations are working hard to resolve the remaining issues on the basis of a draft text proposed by the president last night," a WIPO spokesperson told AFP.

A sticking point is sanctions for offenders, which pits developing countries against developed nations broadly speaking.

"All delegations are working in a constructive spirit and aware that time is of the essence."

Genetic resources are increasingly used by companies in everything from cosmetics to seeds, medicines, biotechnology and food supplements.

They have enabled considerable progress in health, climate and food security, according to the United Nations.

After more than 20 years of discussions on the subject, WIPO's more than 190 member states have been negotiating since May 13 at the UN innovation and patenting agency's Geneva headquarters on finalising a treaty.

"It's a realistic text. It's a balanced text," a Western negotiator told AFP.

"There are obviously always areas that can be improved. That's what we continue to work on."

The draft treaty text says patent applicants would be required to disclose where the genetic resources used in an invention came from, and the indigenous people who provided the associated traditional knowledge.

The goal is to combat biopiracy by ensuring that an invention is genuinely new, and that the countries and local communities concerned agree with the use of their genetic resources, such as plant species cultivated over time, and the traditional knowledge surrounding them.

- Red lines -

While natural genetic resources -- such as those found in medicinal plants, agricultural crops and animal breeds -- cannot be directly protected as international property, inventions developed using them can be patented.

As it is currently not mandatory to publish the origin of innovations, many developing countries are concerned that patents are being granted that either circumvent the rights of indigenous people, or are issued for existing inventions.

Antony Scott Taubman set up WIPO's traditional knowledge division in 2001. He no longer works with the agency.

"I wouldn't go so far as to say it's revolutionary," he said of the proposed treaty.

"Conceptually what we're looking at here is a recognition that when I apply for a patent, it's not purely a technical step... it recognises that I have liabilities," he told AFP.

Brazilian ambassador Guilherme de Aguiar Patriota is chairing the talks.

"As often is the case, in final negotiations agreement eludes us on a few outstanding issues," he said late Wednesday.

"If we all stick to our red lines, we don't have a treaty by the end of the week," he said, before leading several consultations with groups of countries that went overnight into early Thursday.

- Impact on innovation -

Sanctions are the main stumbing block.

Some countries in the global South want a patent to be easily revoked if the holder has not provided the required information on knowledge and resources.

However, wealthy countries take a dim view of this option, fearing that heavy sanctions will only serve to hamper innovation.

"The difficulty is trying to promote a form of convergence between those who already have significant legislation and those who do not," the Western negotiator said of the sanctions.

More than 30 countries already have disclosure requirements in their national laws.

Most of these are emerging and developing economies, including China, Brazil, India and South Africa, but there are also European states, such as France, Germany and Switzerland.

However, the procedures vary and are not always mandatory.

Developing countries have long been calling for greater transparency on the origin of genetic resources.

It took years of negotiations to reduce 5,000 pages of documentation on the subject down to the 23-article draft agreement.