Attempt to Implement the Biodiversity Convention
in the Andean Region
Walter Jaffé and Miguel Rojas
||Latin America/Carribean; Access to genetic resources.
||Jaffé, W. and Rojas, M. (1994), "Attempt to Implement
the Biodiversity Convention in the Andean Region." Biotechnology and Development
Monitor, No. 21, p. 5.
In October 1993, the Andean Pact countries Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador,
Peru and Venezuela approved a common plant breeders rights statute. Simultaneously,
they set themselves the target to establish common policies towards biosafety
and access to genetic resources within a year. These three issues were
seen as necessary components of a coherent legal framework consonant with
the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The responsibility of preparing a draft directive for the access of
genetic resources was assigned to the Junta del Acuerdo de Cartagena
(JUNAC), the administrative body of the Andean Pact. JUNAC contracted the
World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the Peruvian Center for Environmental
Law, a private consultant, for this job. First, they convened a small
meeting of experts in Lima to gather ideas. In July 1994, a larger meeting
was held in Colombia to discuss a draft proposal. This last meeting was
attended by representatives of environmental NGOs, indigenous people organizations
and government experts.
The strategy chosen by JUNAC has been criticized because of a perceived
lack of consultation with the individual countries, particularly with Colombia
where the Ministry of Environment is also working on a proposal. The meeting
in Colombia was taken over by the participants, who, instead of discussing
and amending the IUCN proposal, changed the original agenda in order to
discuss more general issues of genetic resources management. At a second
meeting, hosted by the Ministry of Environment of Venezuela in August 1994,
the Colombian draft which set the basis for a common VenezuelanColombian
proposal was discussed. This last document was one of the drafts presented
to a meeting of government representatives.
The whole discussion process revealed several differences of opinion:
Progress in the discussions is hindered by differences in knowledge of
the participants on the issues, but also by genuine difficulties of a new
and unchartered terrain. Plant breeders, botanists and zoologists are the
most familiar with some of the concrete problems facing genetic resources,
such as the management of ex situ and in situ collections.
They urge solutions for their problems first, which could provide the basis
for tackling the more complicated problems of distribution of benefits
to indigenous communities in the future.
Both the IUCN and Colombian draft proposals emphasize the equitable distribution
of benefits to indigenous people of resources they traditionally use. Although
they did not ignore the rights of indigenous people, many participants
considered other problems, such as management of ex situ collections and
control of scientific investigations, more concrete and urgent.
The discussions revealed strong nationalistic positions regarding genetic
resources management, and deep suspicion about motives and urgency to facilitate
Many participants believed that the proposals serve commercial interests
more than conservationist ones, since the decision to establish a common
policy was taken by the Ministers of Trade and Industry who represent the
countries at the JUNAC.
There is consensus on the assignment of a strong role to the state in the
control of access, an aspect which was perceived as inadequate in the proposal
prepared by IUCN. Many strongly opposed intellectual property protection,
as they link protection with appropriation of the resources.
The representatives of the indigenous communities consulted by IUCN were
unfamiliar with the issues discussed. They subscribed to the importance
of genetic resources for themselves but saw no urgency to establish an
access regime quickly. Persons working directly with genetic resources
(such as plant breeders, ex situ collection managers) on the other
hand, saw a rapid arrangement of the access to genetic resources as important.
They expressed dismay and frustration about the political and philosophical
tone of the debate, which they would like to see in more technical terms.
Walter Jaffé/Miguel Rojas (IICA)
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