The Commissions session reflected the painstaking negotiation process through which governments begin to take ownership of the documents prepared by the FAO secretariat. Many delegations expressed their frustration about the staggeringly slow progress and persistent procedural problems that characterized the meeting. This frustration clearly manifested itself in the final plenary when a number of African countries expressed their reluctance to postpone the next extraordinary session until December 1996. Both public interest and private sector NGOs were united in their concern about the substantive stand- off and called for the meeting to move forward. Nevertheless, the slow progress reflects the complex and controversial nature of the issues involved.
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE CBD AND THE GPA: Several delegations suggested that the turgid nature of the meeting related to the fact that some governments and institutions have yet to come to grips with what the Convention on Biological Diversity has set in place: a new regime for addressing in situ and ex situ plant genetic resources. Similarly, some delegates privately commented that they felt the FAO was itself grappling with the implications of the CBD. The linkage between the FAO and the CBD Secretariat appears to be problematic. Several delegations noted the conspicuous absence of the CBD Secretariat and urged its Executive Secretary to personally attend the Leipzig Conference. However, too much can be read into this lack of representation, as it may simply relate to the fact that the CBD Secretariat is currently without staff. Some delegations commented that the USs regular call for the removal of any direct reference to the CBD in the text of the GPA may well reflect a concern that such reference might compromise US ratification of the CBD. A number of delegations were frustrated by this reluctance to link the GPA to the principles of the CBD, in particular its provisions regarding equitable benefit-sharing and technology transfer. G-77 members were frustrated in their attempts to introduce CBD language into the Drafting Groups text. The timing of the next session to run after the next CBD Conference of the Parties effectively places the ball in the CBDs court to come up with some meaningful results on issues that overlap with the GPA and the International Undertaking.
INTERNATIONAL UNDERTAKING: Clearly the revision of the International Undertaking will be a significant issue for COP consideration. However, whether progress will be made on the IU remains to be seen. The Drafting Groups protracted, word-by- word negotiation of the Global Plan of Action may serve as a good indicator of forthcoming negotiations for the revision of the IU. Some countries signaled their lack of faith in negotiating a revised IU. Some OECD (and some G-77) countries clearly did not want reference to the IU within the text of the GPA fully cognizant of the fact that the IU will be the principle instrument for approving new and additional funds to support the GPA. Without a financial commitment stemming from the IU, the GPA is likely to be treated as a set of broad recommendations without any commitment to their implementation. The G-77 clearly wanted an assurance that the principles enshrined in the CBD relating to sovereign rights over genetic resources and access arrangements under mutually agreed terms will be reflected in the IU. The EU statement suggested these principles have not been set in concrete. Old CBD negotiation battles are likely to resurface if common language is not found soon.
Of course, the International Undertaking raises several critical issues that need to be resolved. In addition to financial commitments, some delegations pointed to the perplexing problem of determining which legal regime should apply to ex situ collections gathered before the CBDs entry into force. Several countries suggested that the concept of Vavilovian Centres of Origin should be revisited and used as a means of identifying the country of origin in order to facilitate access and benefit-sharing arrangements. Meshing the concept of farmers rights with Articles 8(j) and 10(c) of the CBD, which relate to recognizing the rights of local and indigenous communities, subject to national legislation, is another challenge. Many delegations expressed their dismay that the issue of farmers rights was not adequately addressed and are looking towards Leipzig for the issue to be resurrected.
EX SITU PROGRAMMES: In discussions over the GPA, many G-77 countries expressed concern that the FAO had over-emphasized the CGIAR networks rather than supporting national ex situ programmes. Many countries see a clear necessity to maintain their own national gene banks for their own food security, particularly as more commercial food crop varieties are controlled under intellectual property regimes. Because the development of national ex situ programmes would create new and additional financial burdens on the global donor community, sourcing new money is a pivotal issue. As GPA deliberations progressed, language suggesting or implying the need for new financial resources inevitably wound up in brackets. Anything that implied a financial commitment was asked to be withdrawn by the donor countries. It remains to be seen whether Germany will be able to garner commitments for new financial resources from donor countries as a means of securing success in Leipzig.
The meeting also heard a variety of opinions as to whether ex situ collections were more important than in situ conservation measures. The debate did not follow the usually North-South divide. Developing countries, which are centers of origin of food plant species, were, of course, strong advocates of in situ measures, although many also recognized the need to establish complementary ex situ collections. A number of NGOs weighed into this debate in support for in situ on-farm conservation based on traditional practices. NGOs also expressed their concern that the FAO and governments were locked into the mind set of bigger is better, rather than supporting local communities.
FORESTS: The strong position taken by the G-77 in insisting upon the removal of all references to forests and forest genetic resources in the GPA represents an interesting development. In earlier sessions, some G-77 countries, notably from Africa, supported the inclusion of forest genetic resources in the GPA, citing the importance of some tree species as sources of food. GRULACs proposal to refer forest genetic resources to the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests may be problematic, as the terms of reference for the IPF do not specifically allow an entree into this issue-area. As a way forward, several delegations noted that the next COP of the CBD may need to establish a process for discussion on forests and forest genetic resources perhaps in line with Swedens previously expressed interest in a CBD working group on forests.
LOOKING AHEAD TO LEIPZIG: The issues surrounding world food security are infinitely complex and profoundly important. Given the short timeframe between this meeting and the Leipzig Conference, sorting through the morass of unresolved issues will be the real challenge. The strong political statements put forth by the G-77 and a number of OECD countries will set the stage for Leipzig. It remains to be seen whether the Conference will mark a rapprochement or entrenchment of positions.
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