Maputo — The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Thursday voted unanimously to ratify the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and Equitable Sharing of the Benefits Arising from their Use.
This protocol is a supplementary agreement to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, and is intended to provide a transparent legal framework for the implementation of one of the key objectives of the convention - namely an equitable share-out of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.
According to the UN documentation on the protocol, it will “create greater legal certainty and transparency for both providers and users of genetic resources by establishing more predictable conditions for access to genetic resources, and by helping to ensure benefit-sharing when genetic resources leave the contracting party providing the genetic resources”
“By helping to ensure benefit-sharing”, the UN adds, “the Nagoya Protocol creates incentives to conserve and sustainably use genetic resources, and therefore enhances the contribution of biodiversity to development and human well-being”.
The protocol also “addresses traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources with provisions on access, benefit-sharing and compliance. It also addresses genetic resources where indigenous and local communities have the established right to grant access to them. Contracting Parties are to take measures to ensure these communities' prior informed consent, and fair and equitable benefit-sharing, keeping in mind community laws and procedures as well as customary use and exchange”.
Once the protocol takes effect (which happens when 50 signatories have ratified it) the rules will mean that multinational companies must share their profits with local communities not only for using the original resource, but also any derivative products developed from it.
International pharmaceutical companies will also have to pay to use human genetic material including pathogens - the micro-organisms responsible for virus pandemics which are used to develop lucrative vaccines.
The problem here is that one of the main player in genetic resources, the United States, has to date not ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity and has not signed the Nagoya Protocol.
The Protocol also includes a plan to protect biodiversity by setting targets for 2020. Signatory nations agreed to make 17 per cent of the globe's land area and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas into protected regions, as opposed to the current levels of 13 and one per cent.
Introducing the ratification bill in the Assembly, Environment Minister Alcinda Abreu said “there is an intrinsic relationship between genetic resources and traditional knowledge, in that local communities depend on these resources for a variety of purposes, and are regarded as the true guardians and protectors of biodiversity”.
“The use of genetic resources”, she added, “has not only changed our understanding of the living world, but has led to the development of new products and processes ranging from life saving medicines to methods to improve our food security”.
The Nagoya Protocol, said Abreu, “creates incentives for the conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources, thus increasing the contribution of biodiversity to human development and well-being”.
The protocol was adopted on 29 October 2010 in the Japanese city of Nagoya. So far only 29 of the signatory countries (including 14 African countries) have signed the protocol. Mozambique will be the 30th. This is still far short of the 50 ratifications needed for the Protocol to enter into force.