Speakers Debate Inclusion of Technology Transfer, Capacity-Building in Marine Biodiversity Treaty Draft, as Intergovernmental Conference Continues
The question of whether the world’s first treaty to conserve and protect marine diversity on the high seas should include an indicative and non‑exhaustive list of types of capacity‑building and transfer of technology dominated today’s discussions at the intergovernmental conference tasked with drafting that legally binding instrument.
Most delegations which took the floor spoke in favour of embedding such a list in a treaty governing marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Others, notably from developed nations, said they are open to the idea, so long as it does not imply obligations or undermine intellectual property rights.
Egypt’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, opened the discussion, saying States parties should have the primary role in a drawn‑up list of activities to be included in the capacity‑building section of the proposed instrument. Cataloguing what could be on that list, he emphasized that capacity‑building and technology transfer should be carried out in a fair and reasonable manner that does not undermine or duplicate existing instruments and mechanisms.
Picking up on that viewpoint, the representative of the Maldives, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, said that, given ongoing technological developments and the evolution of nations, the list should be non‑exhaustive, flexible and based on the objectives of the new instrument. He added that capacity‑building and marine technology transfer should be open to all stakeholders, including civil society, and not just Governments.
Algeria’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the list should strike a balance between the protection of intellectual property rights and the promotion of technology. He went on to ponder how, without meaningful capacity‑building and technology transfer, States parties to the instrument will be able to implement it and what its added value will be.
The European Union’s delegate, also emphasizing flexibility, said the new instrument should capture the material, human resource and knowledge‑sharing dimensions of capacity‑building. Regarding the terms and conditions for technology transfer, he said the bloc agrees with the United States, among other developed countries, that it should be voluntary and based on mutually agreed terms. He added that it will be hard for his delegation if the duty to transfer technology suddenly shifts to an unconditional obligation.
The representative of Mexico said training — ranging from workshops and scholarships to participation in field work — is a priority issue for his country. Like several other delegations, he proposed that a “clearing house” be established that will enable States parties to exchange knowledge and technology. He added that any list of types of capacity‑building and technology transfer should include a review mechanism to ensure that the list does not become obsolete over time.
The representative of Mauritius made the case for a mechanism that helps Member States identify their own capacity‑building and technology transfer needs. Stressing the importance of “capacity development” in lieu of capacity‑building, he noted that while developing countries might receive equipment donations, they might be hard‑pressed to have enough qualified people to operate it. Such situations called for intensive training regimes, he said, suggesting also a provision to address “the training of trainers”.
Canada’s delegate said he favours the drafting of a non‑exhaustive list. In doing so, however, he cautioned that the Commission must bear in mind that it will be difficult to change, given that it will be part of a legally binding treaty. He added that International Oceanographic Commission criteria and guidelines will be a good starting point for further discussions.
From the South Pacific, the representative of Tonga spoke in support of a non‑exhaustive list that builds on existing provisions in the Convention on the Law of the Sea and the work of the International Oceanographic Commission. Emphasizing the need for States to translate science into effective policy, she suggested that a clearing house mechanism be Internet‑based.
The representative of the United States said his delegation is not fully decided on whether a list is needed or not. If one is included in the new instrument, however, he said it should be non‑binding, setting out broad categories only at an overarching level. He added that the United States will not support any restrictions that discourage research and development. Meanwhile, he said, capacity‑building and technology transfer regarding environmental impact assessments should focus on information‑sharing.
He went on to say that the United States will support a clearing house for environmental impact assessment manuals that can be used as a reference library. In that context, he said the conference might need to explore the protection of non‑public information on the grounds of, for instance, national security. On terms and conditions, he added, the United States supports the inclusion of provisions on marine technology transfer so long as such transfers are voluntary and based on agreed terms and conditions.
Singapore’s delegate emphasized the need to strike a balance between knowledge‑sharing and the protection of intellectual property rights. Nothing in the new instrument must undermine the latter, he added.
The representative of Palau said scientific information must be translated in a way that policymakers can understand. If the new instrument has no list, there should be an effort to draft them at the regional level. She added that capacity-building should be niche‑driven and not limited to States only.
The Republic of Korea’s delegate said his country has doubts about putting a list in an international legally binding instrument, especially if that list implied obligations. Capacity‑building and technology transfer should be carried out on a voluntary basis, he said, suggesting that it might be better for the new instrument to establish a mandate for drafting a list.
Towards the end of the day, the conference discussed how a capacity‑building and technology transfer mechanism might be funded. Speakers — including Egypt (on behalf of the Group of 77), Maldives (on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States) and Nauru (on behalf of the Pacific small island developing States) emphasized the need for a sustainable and predictable funding mechanism that could be complemented with a voluntary trust fund.
Taking a different view, the European Union’s representative said the bloc is not in favour of a new funding mechanism. While there might be merit in creating a voluntary trust fund to help developed countries attend meetings, he said capacity‑building and technology transfer should be financed based on existing public and private sources.
The representative of the United States said his delegation is open to discussing a voluntary trust fund. It does not, however, support a mandatory fund.
In the same vein, the Russian Federation’s delegate said a voluntary fund is something his side is ready to consider. But it cannot support mandatory contributions.
The representative of Mauritius suggested that the private sector — including the shipping and insurance industries which profit from the high seas — could pay into a trust fund in a display of global corporate responsibility.
In addition, the conference also took up the question of how the new instrument will address the issue of monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of capacity‑building and the transfer of marine technology activities.
Also speaking today were representatives of Bangladesh (on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries), Saint Lucia (on behalf of the Caribbean Community), Fiji, Mauritius, Federated States of Micronesia, Norway, Canada, Jamaica, Australia, Russian Federation, China, Republic of Korea, Philippines, Paraguay, Monaco, Nigeria, Colombia, Switzerland, Sri Lanka, Iran, Algeria, Malaysia, Bahamas and Japan, as well as the Holy See.
Representatives of the International Seabed Authority, International Oceanographic Commission, International Maritime Organization (IMO), International Council of Environmental Law and the Convention on Biological Diversity also spoke.
In other business today, the conference — in one round of voting — elected the Bahamas, Mexico and Brazil as its Vice‑Presidents from the Latin American and Caribbean Group, completing the composition of its Bureau.
In its resolution 72/249 of 24 December 2017, the General Assembly decided to convene the intergovernmental conference — under United Nations auspices — to consider the recommendations of the Preparatory Committee established by resolution 69/292 of 19 June 2015 on the elements and to elaborate the text of an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, with a view to developing the instrument as soon as possible.
Following the current inaugural meeting, which ends on 17 September, the conference will hold a second and third session in 2019 and a fourth and last session in the first half of 2020.
The conference will meet again on Friday, 7 September to continue its work.