The FAO established the intergovernmental Commission on Plant Genetic Resources (CPGR) in 1983. Renamed the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) in 1995, the Commission is currently comprised of the 151 member States of the FAO. The CGRFA coordinates, oversees and monitors the development of the Global System for the Conservation and Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which is comprised of the Commission itself and the non-binding International Undertaking (IU) on Plant Genetic Resources, the rolling Global Plan of Action and International Fund for Plant Genetic Resources (PGR), the World Information and Early Warning System (WIEWS), Codes of Conduct and Guidelines for the Collection and Transfer of Germplasm, the International Network of Ex Situ Collections under the auspices of the FAO, an international network of in situ conservation areas and crop-related networks.
THE INTERNATIONAL UNDERTAKING: The International Undertaking, the first comprehensive agreement on PGR, was established in November 1983, by FAO Conference Resolution 9/83. Its objective is to ensure that plant genetic resources especially species of present or future economic and social importance are explored, collected, conserved, evaluated, utilized and made available for plant breeding and other scientific purposes. It was originally based on the principle that PGR should be preserved and freely available for use, for the benefit of present and future generations as part of the common heritage of mankind. This principle, however, was subsequently subjected to the sovereignty of States over their plant genetic resources (FAO Resolution 3/91).
Although a non-binding agreement, the IU was not adopted by consensus since eight developed countries formally recorded reservations. Over the years, through a series of additional interpretive resolutions, the IU has achieved wider acceptability. As of May 1997, 111 countries had adhered to the IU, with Brazil, Canada, China, Japan, Malaysia and the US as notable exceptions.
The 13 years since the IUs adoption have seen heightened interest in and awareness of the issue of biodiversity, culminating in the entry into force of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1993. Advances in biotechnology and developments in related matters concerning intellectual property rights have added urgency, and complications, to the need to further develop an international regime relating to the management of PGR. Countries are now looking anew at the IU as a possible vehicle for this purpose.
In April 1993, the Commission considered the implications of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), and the CBD in particular, for the IU. Recognizing that the CBD would play a central role in determining policy on PGR, the Commission agreed that the IU should be revised to be in harmony with the Convention. At its First Extraordinary Session, held in November 1994, the Commission reviewed a First Negotiating Draft, which incorporated the three interpretative annexes into the IU, and provided a more rational structure, grouped into 14 articles.
SIXTH SESSION OF THE CGRFA: The Commission on Plant Genetic Resources (CPGR-6) held its sixth regular Session at FAO Headquarters in Rome in June 1995. In addition to its regular agenda, the Commission considered a Second Negotiating Draft, which included the comments made and alternative wording suggested by Commission members to the First Negotiating Draft. At this meeting, the Commission focussed its discussions on Articles 3, 11 and 12 (pertaining to scope, access and Farmers Rights, respectively), and undertook a first reading of the Preamble. Proposals made by Commission members were integrated into a Third Negotiating Draft. In October 1995, the FAO Conference (Resolution 3/95) agreed to broaden the mandate of the Commission on Plant Genetic Resources to cover all aspects of genetic resources of relevance to food and agriculture, and to change its name to the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The implementation of the broadened mandate is on a step-by-step basis starting with animal genetic resources, and should not interfere with the negotiations for the revision of the International Undertaking. The Conference further agreed that the broadened Commission may establish intergovernmental technical sectoral working groups , with appropriate geographical balance, to assist [the CGRFA] in the areas of plant, animal forestry and fisheries genetic resources.
SECOND EXTRAORDINARY SESSION OF THE CGRFA AND THE FOURTH INTERNATIONAL TECHNICAL CONFERENCE ON PGR: The CGRFA held its Second Extraordinary Session at FAO Headquarters in Rome from 22-27 April 1996 in order to address several issues in preparation for the Fourth International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources (ITCPGR-4) held in Leipzig, Germany, from 17- 23 June 1996. ITCPGR-4 agreed on an international programme for the conservation and utilization of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Representatives of 148 States adopted the Leipzig Declaration, the Conferences key political statement, and a Global Plan of Action (GPA), the Conferences main substantive output. Contentious issues, including financing and implementation of the GPA, technology transfer, Farmers Rights and access and benefit-sharing, were the subject of ongoing contact group consultations. Their resolution, adopted as a package by the final plenary, represented a careful compromise of strongly held positions. Delegates were also presented with the first comprehensive Report on the State of the Worlds Plant Genetic Resources and a progress report on the revision of the International Undertaking.
THIRD EXTRAORDINARY SESSION OF THE CGRFA: The CGRFA held its Third Extraordinary Session at FAO Headquarters in Rome from 9-13 December 1996. During the week-long meeting, delegates focused on Farmers Rights, scope and access to genetic resources in relation to the revision of the International Undertaking. Building on the results of a two-day meeting of the Commissions standing Working Group, during which several countries put forward proposals, delegates confronted both the political and intellectual complexities as well as time constraints of revising the International Undertaking.
Although the meeting technically constituted the third formal negotiating session for the revision of the IU, CGRFA-EX3 can be characterized as a constructive pre-negotiation exercise. The meeting did not produce any new negotiated text, but it did make progress on difficult and often divisive issues. Many delegations moved beyond political posturing in order to clarify the concerns and interests that underlie their different positions. The G- 77, the EU and the US each tabled text on Farmers Rights to serve as the foundation for the Commissions future deliberations on this issue. CGRFA-EX3 also commissioned a two-step study that would set out the various options for scope and access under a revised IU, and assess the viability of these arrangements. Finally, the Commission agreed on arrangements for the continuation of its work on the IU.
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