The Effects of "Leipzig" on Latin America and the Caribbean
Gabriel Ricardo Nemoga-Soto
Keywords:  Latin America/Carribean; Access to genetic resources; Germplasm conservation; Technology transfer; Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).
Correct citation: Nemoga-Soto, G.R. (1996), "The Effects of "Leipzig" on Latin America and the Caribbean." Biotechnology and Development Monitor, No. 28, p. 2-5.

The Global Plan of Action (GPA), adopted in Leipzig in June 1996, might have negative effects on Latin America. Despite the Latin American consensus on several issues beforehand, the region was less successful in protecting its interests in Leipzig. In particular the dismissal of sovereign rights of countries of origin of Plant Genetic Resources (PGRs) in the GPA illustrated the pressure industrialized countries have exerted.

To prepare the Leipzig Conference, the FAO convened sub-regional meetings in order to build up a consensus on a future GPA. In 1995 two sub-regional meetings took place in Latin America: the Sub-regional Meeting for the Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean and the Sub-regional Meeting for South America. Subsequently, in 1996 a Regional Meeting for Latin America and the Caribbean (Bogotá meeting) was organized in 1996 resulting in the Bogotá Declaration.
During the course of the sub-regional meetings, government representatives recognized that a GPA and related activities would go beyond their existing institutional capacities. Already national programmes on PGRs are scarce, and those that do function are characterized by restrictions regarding available technology, infrastructure and qualified human resources. The countries recognized that their PGRs have no value as long as they are not surveyed and characterized with the help of advanced technology. Therefore, they agreed that the establishment of an institutional capacity and the allocation of new and additional funds on the basis of the GPA activities should be the main points of discussion during the Leipzig meeting.
The sub-regional meetings also gave high priority to open access to ex situ collections; balanced in situ and ex situ conservation; and harmonization of GPA with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Finally, during both meetings the importance of farmers’ rights was underscored. Additionally, at both sub-regional meetings the participating countries agreed to share and transfer technology within the subcontinent.
Although most of the issues raised during the two meetings overlapped, some differed due to the variation in plant genetic diversity between the countries. The Central American countries, Mexico and most of the Caribbean countries sought to ensure access to, and transfer of, PGRs. They also emphasized plant breeders’ rights and other legal measures to promote seed production for the local market. In turn, the gene-rich South American countries agreed to establish strong regulation on access to their PGRs and to evaluate and define biosafety regulation.

Research and technology transfer
A key issue at the Bogotá meeting was to ensure the transfer of technology on concessive and preferential terms as a way to compensate for the region’s contribution to ex situ collections. It was decided that the issue of technology transfer is a matter of "mutually agreed" transactions, with acknowledgement and effective protection of intellectual property rights. In practice, this means that the issue of technology transfer is outside the scope of multilateral negotiations, and that it often concerns bilateral negotiations between weak and strong countries.
Additionally, LAC countries proposed to make transfer of generic technology a "priority activity" in the GPA, which would, between others, mean an allocation of GPA funds to this activity. In Leipzig, the inclusion of the Latin American proposal with respect to the development of strategic research and the transfer of generic technology was opposed by France, Italy, Turkey, Canada, Australia and the USA. Instead, these countries expressed the view that a reference to technology transfer ought to be included anywhere in the text rather than in a separate section.

Sovereignty attacked
Like the proposal on technology transfer, the Bogotá Declaration with respect to the regulation of access PGRs (both in situ and ex situ) and the acknowledgement of national sovereignty were finally rejected by the Conference, in this case on the formal grounds that they should be discussed during the International Undertaking negotiations scheduled for the end of 1996. The political reason for the dismissal was that industrialized countries feared that the discussion of rights on PGRs would threaten the adoption of the GPA.
With respect to ex situ collections, the Latin American region emphasized the need to observe the sovereign rights of the countries of origin of PGRs, a position widely backed by most of the developing countries. The USA and the EU, however, strongly opposed this view, achieving instead the approval for a call to "strengthen cooperation ... to sustain ex situ collections, recognizing that states have sovereign rights over their own PGRs".
The difference between the two positions is significant, since the USA and the EU recognized that all countries have sovereign rights over their "own" PGRs, i.e. over PGRs stored on their territory irrespective of the territory of origin. In this way, they rejected the recognition of sovereign rights of the countries of origin of PGRs. This is contrary to the interest of gene-rich countries who demand the acknowledgement of their rights as countries of origin of the PGRs stored in ex situ collections all over the world.
The exclusion of the expression "sovereign rights of the countries of origin of PGRs" and the alternative text proposed by the USA and the EU and approved during the Conference have serious implications. These are illustrated by the recent strategy of the Northern biotechnology companies to access PGRs from gene-rich countries by dealing directly with European collecting agencies, where PGRs have been stored, rather than dealing with the countries of origin themselves. For example, Phytera, a US company, is trying to deal with European botanical gardens to secure access to PGRs originally collected in gene-rich countries. The firm offers future royalties to botanical gardens once a product is commercialized. Clearly, this move contradicts the CBD principle of a fair and equitable share of benefits with the countries of origin of PGRs.

The Leipzig Conference and its backgrounds

In 1993 the FAO Commission on Plant Genetic Resources of the FAO decided that an "International Technical Conference" was needed to transform the relevant parts of the UNCED process, including Agenda 21 and the Convention on Biological Diversity, into a "costed Global Plan of Action" (GPA). A draft of the GPA was discussed during the Technical Conference in Leipzig, Germany, 17-23 June 1996. 

GPA, Declaration and the report
The GPA contains about 346 recommendations derived from data assembled in a large report entitled "State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources", which is the main background document for the GPA. To assemble data for the report, 154 countries, divided into 11 sub-regions worldwide, held preparatory meetings. In cooperation with FAO these countries also formulated policy standpoints to be expressed in the GPA.
While the report can be considered as the most recent state-of-the-art on ideas from various disciplines regarding optimal conservation and use of plant genetic resources (PGRs), the GPA formulates guidelines for future funding, conservation and use.
Another aim of the Conference was to formulate the "Leipzig Declaration on Conservation and Sustainable Utilisation of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture." The Leipzig Declaration explicitly formulates general rules and principles regarding access, conservation and use of PGRs and is of a less technical nature than the Global Plan. Minimal consensus was reached on the Declaration due to ‘classic’ issues such as national sovereignty, technology transfer, finance. 

Global Plan of Action
The host of the discussions during the conference concentrated on the 346 recommendations of the Global Plan of Action. The negotiations on the Plan are not yet finalized but agreement has been reached on about 95 per cent of the items. The most significant elements were the following: 

* The most preferable conservation strategy is a combination of in situ and ex situ storage. Local and indigenous knowledge should be recognized as important components of surveying and inventorying activities. Participatory, on-farm management of PGRs is recommended, although no consensus was reached on the question as to whether this should be supported by (financial revenues from) farmers’ rights. Regarding in situ conservation, the GPA explicitly demands more attention for wild relatives which could be used for the improvement of food crops. Many of the world’s nature parks, it states, contain wild relatives, but receive little concern.
Regarding ex situ conservation, the GPA intends to give high priority to safeguarding as much diversity as possible in ex situ collections while countries have national sovereignty over, and responsibility for, their own PGRs. More finance is requested to support ex situ "core" collections (containing a selected and characterized amount of entries already available in ex situ collections). 

* Regarding the use of PGRs the GPA supports a sustainable agriculture through diversification of crop production and a broader diversity in crops. Various strategies are opted for, starting with a further support for seed production and distribution in the public sector. A relatively new strategy to increase the demand for diverse PGRs was to develop new (niche) markets for local varieties and "diversity rich" products. The issue of the use of PGRs subject to property rights "in accordance with applicable international agreements and national legislation" was not resolved. Neither was the exchange of PGRs for technology. The final section of the GPA on "Ensuring a Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits" which demanded an effective implementation of farmers’ rights was not agreed upon.
Robin Pistorius

One of the major problems for developing countries is the amount of attention paid to ex situ conservation in the GPA draft. The LAC countries, together with other developing countries, objected to the proposal in the GPA draft to allocate more money to ex situ conservation at the expense of in situ conservation. Consequently, the LAC countries proposed the creation of an autonomous financial mechanism to implement the GPA.
This proposal initiated a new round of conflicts, this time in Rome during a preparatory meeting. Here, Venezuela, on behalf of the G-77, threatened to stop the negotiations until a clear commitment to guarantee the funding of the GPA by industrialized countries was made. After a two-day deadlock, the industrialized countries agreed that this issue would be an agenda point in Leipzig. Finally, after days of fruitless negotiations in Leipzig, it resulted in a proposal to delete the section on cost and funding, and to postpone the decision about this to a later meeting. It was agreed that in the Conference Report a reference should be made to the issue by stating that the GPA funding should come from both industrialized countries and multilateral agencies, in close cooperation with the CBD. The forthcoming negotiations round will show whether or not the CBD’s substantial funds, initially assigned for biological diversity conservation, would end up being used for financing PGRs ex situ conservation.

The roots of weakness
As the above analysis shows, most of the Bogotá Declaration and demands were either dismissed or postponed to later negotiations rounds. This thoroughly reflects the weakness of the region to defend its interests in international fora successfully. Negotiation shortcomings, however, can only partly be explained by institutional and organizational constraints. In this case for example, the Latin-American and Caribbean delegations to the preparatory and final meetings consisted mainly of officials from agricultural ministries and research institutions. Four of them came from foreign relations offices and eleven from environment agencies. More than 50 per cent of the delegates attending the Leipzig Conference had participated in the preparatory sub-regional and regional meetings.
Other, more powerful explanations for the weakness of Latin American countries exist. Under the current process of globalization, the developing countries are being forced to internationalize their economies. In the case of agriculture, this is illustrated by the integration of national economies in the international market, along with the dismantling of public agricultural research institutions and the strengthening of legal systems to attract foreign investment.
In this context, biological diversity and particularly PGRs have become the target of international capital. Many developing countries tend to value their crops and local agricultural practices according to the capacity to generate foreign currency, instead of meeting the basic needs of the population such as food and health. The Latin American claim on sovereign rights as the basis of the development, however, is not more than a formal statement if the asymmetric relation between developing and industrialized countries, reinforced by globalization, remains untouched.
At the same time, Latin American governments have adopted the industrial paradigm as the unique option for rural development regardless of the fact that genetic and cultural erosion are caused by the expansion of the modern commercial agriculture. Agricultural improvement based on modern plant breeding, plant biotechnology and high-yielding varieties on the one hand, and the claims about sustainable use of PGRs on the other, underestimates the knowledge and practices of indigenous communities who have nurtured biological diversity for centuries. Just as in the past, when Latin American governments adopted a model based on mechanization, use of fertilisers and monoculture, they again focus on unsustainable technocratic solutions. However, only by adopting policies and decisions to guarantee agricultural sustainability and food security, Latin American countries can strengthen their position.
The LAC countries advanced some of these issues. The inclusion of elements such as the sovereign rights on PGRs, access to ex situ collections and fair and equitable share on the benefits with local and indigenous communities derived from the use of PGRs is a step in the right direction. However, the main challenge is to realize their obligations and commitments by designing legal and institutional mechanisms aiming to guarantee effectively the rights of local communities. This is even more important for the members of the Andean Pact, who recently decided to develop within 15 months a special regime on collective rights of indigenous peoples regarding genetic resources.
Examining the trends within international negotiations, the exclusion of the ex situ collections from the jurisdiction of CBD on the one hand, and the dismissal of sovereign rights of countries of origin of PGRs at the GPA on the other, illustrate the pressure of industrialized countries to validate rights and royalties to those who have collected and stored genetic resources rather than to the countries and communities that have preserved and nurtured them. Facing the dramatic paradox of being the source of genetic resources (essential to food and agriculture) and simultaneously registering high levels of malnutrition and poverty, there is no doubt that the Latin American countries, and more generally the biologically diverse countries, have to strengthen their cooperative efforts to reverse today’s mainstream in international fora.
Gabriel Ricardo Nemoga-Soto

Director Unit for Socio-Legal Research "Gerardo Molina" (UNIJUS), Facultad de Derecho, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Carrera 30 Calle 45, Bogotá, Colombia. E-mail: grnemoga@bacata.usc.unal.edu.co

Jaime Bonilla and Gabriel Ricardo Nemoga (1996), "La Globalización de la Economía, el Abismo Tecnológico y el Papel de las Naciones Pobre: Una mirada a la biodiversidad desde la economía política." In: Biodiversidad y Derechos de Los Pueblos: Amazonia por la vida. Quito, Ecuador: Acción Ecológica. pp. 13-28.

Proceedings of the Preparatory Meeting for Latin American and the Caribbean Countries on GPA. March 18-22 1996, Colombia.

RAFI (1994), Declaring the Benefits. Occasional Paper Series. Canada: Rural Advancement Foundation International.

G. Tirso (1996), Economía Política de la Conservación Ex-Situ de Recursos Fitogenéticos. Regional Meeting for Latin America and the Caribbean, Colombia.

Contributions to the Biotechnology and Development Monitor are not covered by any copyright. Exerpts may be translated or reproduced without prior permission (with exception of parts reproduced from third sources), with acknowledgement of source.


back to top
monitor homepage
index of this issue
contact us