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CLOSING PLENARY

The final plenary went well into Friday night as delegates deliberated the draft report of the meeting, as presented by the Rapporteur, Mr. Fernando Jos´┐Ż Marroni de Abreu (Brazil). After lengthy debate on the status of several formal statements made during the meeting, delegates agreed to append statements on behalf of the FAO Director-General and the CBD Secretariat in their entirety to the report, and to highlight the presentation by IPGRI, while removing reference to the ASSINSEL presentation.

On the basis of discussions in the penultimate session of the plenary, the Commission finalized arrangements for the next regular meeting of the Commission, scheduled for May 1997. Following the opening session, during which the Commission would elect an extended Bureau (to allow for complete regional representation) and address other organizational matters, regional groups would meet throughout the remainder of Thursday and Friday in order to discuss and reach agreement on regional proposals. During the weekend, the Secretariat would compile and translate the various texts proposed, with the Bureau consolidating them, where possible.

Emphasizing the need to expedite and focus negotiations for revising the IU, countries were invited to make additional submissions for circulation at the next meeting. The Secretariat will also invite the WTO, WIPO, UPOV and the CBD to transmit relevant background documentation, within their respective areas of competence, especially related to access and benefit-sharing with regard to PGR and agricultural biodiversity. A number of countries emphasized the need for countries and regions to clarify and define their positions, particularly with respect to scope, access and Farmers’ Rights. This could involve national and regional consultations with all stakeholders, including farmers, local communities, women’s groups and NGOs.

On the basis of the first ad hoc expert working group on animal genetic resources convened by the FAO in January 1997, which will consider the possible establishment of an intergovernmental sectoral working group, the Commission will consider, for the first time, the issue of animal genetic resources. Finally, the Commission agreed that the question of follow-up to ITCPGR-4 and the revision of the cost estimates of the Global Plan of Action should be taken up by CGRFA-7.

Following the termination of interpretation services at 1:30 am, delegates continued deliberations in English. Noting his lack of fluency in this language, Chair Bolivar invited Vice-Chair Kristiane Herrmann (Australia) to chair the remainder of the meeting.

On behalf of Spanish-speaking countries, COLOMBIA stated that the interruption of interpretation services was unacceptable because it precluded equal participation in discussions and decisions of the meeting, and called for the meeting to come to an end. Following brief consultations and a trilingual statement by FRANCE in Spanish, French and English requesting that the report register its protest, the meeting resumed and the Commission adopted the report at 3:30 am on Saturday morning.

A BRIEF ANALYSIS OF THE MEETING

Although CGRFA-EX3 was officially the third negotiation session for the revision of the International Undertaking (IU), it was the first meeting entirely dedicated to the subject. As a result, CGRFA-EX3 reflected a pre-negotiation phase, in which delegates are still defining the range of issues to be addressed and identifying common areas of agreement and disagreement. Indeed, delegations displayed a marked reluctance to engage in negotiations. Several observers noted that this reluctance was symptomatic of either holiday distraction or “conference fatigue”, since most delegates had attended either the third meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-3) for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Buenos Aires or the World Food Summit in Rome only weeks before.

Others attributed their hesitance to negotiate to something more substantive: the realization that revising the IU in harmony with the Biodiversity Convention would require, as one delegate put it, “radical reform”. Those delegates who proposed importing language directly from the CBD were quickly reminded that this was not a “cut and paste” exercise.

One observer noted that the inertia of the meeting was inversely proportionate to the urgency of the need to address ex situ collections acquired prior to the entry into force of the CBD. The challenging nature of this issue is highlighted by the fact that CBD Article 15.3 on access to plant genetic resources does not address post-CBD collections. One delegate interpreted this to mean that the Biodiversity Convention effectively gave up on collections which preceded its entry into force. There was general concern for clarity on this issue — noting that the Commission could not afford to “paper over” political differences as the CBD did. While some delegates see the IU revision process as an attempt by developing countries to operationalize the benefit-sharing provisions of the CBD, others see it as an attempt by industrialized countries to revise the CBD according to the IU.

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