Delegates Discuss Best Ways to Share Benefits of Marine Genetic Resources in Proposed New Oceans Treaty, as Intergovernmental Conference Continues
With the Intergovernmental Conference to draft a new maritime diversity treaty under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea continuing its second substantive session today, delegates debated how best to share the benefits of marine genetic resources and how to monitor their use in areas beyond national jurisdictions.
Much of the day-long discussion centred on principles and approaches relating to sharing the benefit of marine genetic resources, including the scope of the draft biological diversity treaty and the concept of oceans being the common heritage of humankind.
Norway’s representative said a new treaty should advance knowledge of marine genetic resources and be simple, practical and workable, with a view to promoting the sharing of benefits. Similarly, New Zealand’s representative said that drafting the instrument presents an opportunity to facilitate the sustainable use of marine genetic resources and the equitable sharing of benefits arising from their use.
Addressing scientific aspects, several non-governmental organizations spotlighted the advantages of sharing knowledge. A representative of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources said that, from a scientific viewpoint, open sharing of knowledge about marine biological diversity will help conservation efforts. Ideally, information relating to origin should be attached to samples of marine biological diversity resources and maintained as it is shared and used.
On the issue of benefits, a representative of the Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative said that facilitating open access to marine genetic research contributes to the science field. Moreover, support for such measures as linking data with samples helps to safeguard the material’s scientific value.
In discussing how such activities would translate into a legally binding text for the new agreement, some delegates favoured including these measures in separate sections. China’s representative noted that the instrument should include a single section dealing with principles for the whole treaty, rather than individual parts. Elaborating on that point, Cuba’s delegate highlighted the need for general principles in a broad section of the treaty. She said that her delegation would also like to maintain all these principles throughout the text, to be refined at a later date.
At the same time, Iran’s representative expressed support for including a specific provision on benefit-sharing objectives, adding that objectives and principles in different parts of the text should be incorporated into a separate section for the whole agreement. The representative of Barbados, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said she prefers that, on objectives and general principles, the treaty include a separate section for objectives. However, any decision in this regard will be informed by the instrument’s design.
Meanwhile, Viet Nam’s delegate pledged to be flexible on whether there would be a separate section on objectives or specific sections on goals within each topic.
The observer for the Holy See said that she agreed with delegations who prefer to see the objectives stated in the general provisions rather than within each topic. However, with regard to benefit‑sharing, the matter of monetary and non-monetary benefits is singular and as a result, a separate provision might clarify this section.
Also speaking on the possible inclusion of such benefits, the observer for the State of Palestine, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, reiterated that they should be more than non-monetary in nature.
Expressing a different perspective, Australia’s representative said the focus should be on sharing non-monetary benefits. Yet, that does not mean that non-monetary benefit‑sharing does not have a cost, as advantages could include a requirement to provide information about the collection of the marine genetic resources alongside access to related samples in situ when it is returned to various national jurisdictions.
Eritrea’s delegate pointed out that the ocean, in areas beyond national jurisdiction, constitutes a single ecosystem, making it difficult to divide it into jurisdictional zones.
Nepal’s representative said his country favours the objective of sharing of benefits. He also supports the inclusion of a principle that oceans constitute a common heritage of mankind.
The Russian Federation’s representative, having reviewed various positions presented during the discussion, said examining options for the new treaty should not distract from the main question: what legal justifications exist for the distribution of benefits, and on what basis could they exist if marine genetic resources are recognized as a common heritage of mankind?
However, this cannot be done by the Intergovernmental Conference, he said, explaining that its mandate is to draw up a treaty on the basis of the Convention on the Law of the Sea and not to undermine its existing positions. If marine genetic resources are not part of the common heritage of humankind, then there is no legal justification to discuss benefit-sharing in a monetary form, he stressed.
The representative of Mauritius said that, with the development of the new instrument, delegations are not trying to create a new international economic order. Instead, all the aspirations of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development should be considered. In addition, the specific needs of small island developing States and landlocked developing countries must be taken into account.
In the afternoon, the discussion turned to matters of a clearing-house mechanism, intellectual property rights, monitoring the use of marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction and the scope and access of the instrument.
Delegates voiced support for text to be included regarding a clearing-house mechanism, with an observer for the European Union delegation noting that such a tool forms part of a cross-cutting issue that incorporates capacity-building efforts.
Echoing that point was the representative of Barbados, who spoke on behalf of CARICOM, calling for a separate section on the matter as the mechanism involves all other aspects of the instrument under consideration. The representative of Switzerland concurred, adding that the mechanism must not include a trust fund.
“Clearing-house mechanisms must be able to evolve as the needs of States evolve,” said Fiji’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Pacific small island developing States, recognizing the value of the knowledge of indigenous communities in unlocking marine genetic resources.
Still, some delegates called for a clearer understanding of the makeup of a clearing-house mechanism, with the representative of the United States saying such a tool can yield benefits only if it is not part of a redundant system. “We cannot lay down a framework before we understand what kind of clearing-house mechanism is actually needed,” he said.
Several delegations said mechanisms are already in place to oversee intellectual property related to marine genetic resources and opposed the inclusion of text on the matter. The representatives of Japan and the Republic of Korea said intellectual property issues can be addressed within the framework of other institutions, including the World Intellectual Property Organization and World Trade Organization. As such, they opposed the inclusion of related text.
The representative of Brazil, speaking on behalf of like-minded Latin American countries, recognized the international normative framework on intellectual property, but said further work is needed to understand how it applies to the instrument at hand.
Countering concerns over the inclusion of text on intellectual property, the representative of Algeria, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said there is confusion as to what forum is best suited to address the matter and there must be clarifying text in the instrument.
Opinions were divided on the need to include text on monitoring of the utilization of marine genetic resources of areas beyond national jurisdiction. The representatives of Thailand and Turkey said there must be a monitoring mechanism within the instrument, with Turkey’s delegate calling for a scientific body to be tasked with monitoring responsibilities.
Providing an example of a possible monitoring mechanism, the representative of the Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative said no global research cruise registration exists and any such mechanism would advance sharing related benefits.
However, some delegates warned that creating a new monitoring mechanism would impede scientific research. The representative of Canada said it would create an overly burdensome environment.
Calling for greater clarity on the geographical scope of the instrument, Turkey’s representative suggested defining the area beyond national jurisdiction as the high seas beyond 200 nautical miles.
Also speaking today were representatives of Singapore, Samoa, Iceland, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Indonesia, Colombia, Maldives, Federated States of Micronesia, Tonga, Nauru, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Morocco and Bangladesh.
The representative of the International Council of Environmental Law also spoke.
The Conference will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 27 March, to continue its work.