219. The representative of FAO said that it was after 23 years of discussion and seven years of formal negotiation in the FAO that the FAO treaty had been adopted, by consensus, on 3 November 2001. The FAO treaty was considered to be an excellent example of North-South cooperation in the fight against world hunger. He informed the Council that 815 million people were suffering from hunger. He hoped that the FAO treaty could help achieve the World Food Summit's target to halve the number of hungry by 2015. He said that the FAO treaty was a binding agreement of importance for several different sectors, including agriculture, trade and environment. He recalled that the WTO Secretariat had been represented and had provided essential advice to the negotiators at many meetings of the FAO. In his view the FAO treaty was in harmony with other international agreements, including the TRIPS Agreement.
220. Regarding the importance of the FAO treaty, he said that it dealt with plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, including the crops on which food security depends. He mentioned the famine in Europe in the 19th century as an illustration of the importance of these resources to human kind. That famine, which caused the death of two million people in Ireland and led to the emigration of millions, had emanated from the narrow genetic base of the potato in Europe, when the disease called phytopthora infestans had struck potato plants. The use of chemicals could not solve the disease problem. The problem was eventually solved after discovering resistance genes in the centre of origin of the potato in Latin America. A similar problem had occurred in the United States in the 1970s when a disease called helminthosporium maydis had struck maize in the Southern part of the country. That problem was also solved only after finding resistant genes in Africa. He said such examples showed that no country could be self-sufficient or independent with respect to plant genetic resources. On average, approximately 70% of the genes necessary to solve the problems of agriculture for the most important crops come from countries other than those with the problem. Thus, international co-operation was not an option but a necessity.
221. Unfortunately, he said, for the most important crops, up to 90% of the diversity existing at the beginning of the 20th century had been lost for ever. The loss of genetic resources that had existed in local farmers’ varieties and in the wild relatives of crops limits our ability to develop new plant varieties capable of resisting future diseases and to cope with unpredictable environmental needs. He explained that biotechnology depended upon genetic resources as the raw material to produce new varieties. Genetic resources could be compared to the child’s game, “Lego”, as genes were like building blocks. Having a large variety of pieces could enable one to build a house, a castle or a bridge, as needed. However, if some pieces were missing or if all the pieces were the same, our choices would be drastically limited. Plant improvement needs diversity and, like “Lego”, cannot build on uniformity. He noted that biotechnology did not create genes but used genes to make different useful combinations. Although biotechnology may appear to be a highly technical field, the question of protecting genetic resources for food and agriculture had wide socio-economic, political, cultural, legal and ethical implications affecting the future of humanity. It was for these reasons that countries within the Conference of the Parties to the CBD had recognized in 1995 the specific nature of agricultural bio-diversity, its distinctive features and problems, which needed distinctive solutions.
222. He described the FAO treaty as having three goals: first, the conservation of plant genetic resources for the future. Genetic diversity was part of human heritage, handed down from previous generations, but much of which had been lost in the 20th century. The present generation had an obligation to conserve for future generations the genetic resources they would need to deal with threats to food security, and meet evolving needs. Countries that were party to the FAO treaty therefore had a legal obligation to protect and conserve their plant genetic resources. The second goal was the sustainable use of plant genetic resources. Humanity had so far used only very little of agricultural genetic diversity: only 150 of the 7,000 plant species used in the course of human history of food and agriculture were currently farmed. Twelve of them alone provided most human food from plants, and four only provide more than half. Therefore, the FAO treaty established incentives for people to use a broader range of the diversity. The third goal was the fair sharing of the benefits derived from the use of genetic resources. Articles 12 and 13 of the FAO treaty provided several elements that would contribute to the fair sharing of the benefits derived from the use of genetic resources, including access to genetic resources for research and genetic improvement, exchange of relevant information, transfer of technology, national capacity building for the conservation and improvement of genetic resources, and the mandatory or voluntary sharing of the monetary and other benefits of commercialization.
223. The FAO treaty also set out a number of innovative elements to achieve its goals. Firstly, it established a Multilateral System for Access and Benefit-sharing that is applicable to 64 crops. Two selection criteria were used in identifying these crops, namely the importance of the crop for food security and the level of interdependence between countries. The breeding of new plant varieties often involved the use of tens or hundreds of traditional varieties from different countries. Bilateral agreements for access to these genetic resources were likely to involve enormous transaction costs. Countries therefore agreed that a multilateral system was the only effective way of managing these crops. Access and the sharing of benefits were to be regulated by standardized material transfer agreements (MTAs) to be approved by the Governing Board of the FAO treaty. Secondly, the FAO treaty provided for the recognition of farmers' rights, including the right to the protection of traditional knowledge, the sharing of the benefits, and farmers' participation in decision-making at the national level.
224. He said that countries, through the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, had negotiated the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, adopted by 150 countries at the Liepzig International Conference on Plant Genetic Resources, in 1996. This Plan set out agreed priorities, programmes and activities necessary for the conservation and the sustainable use of plant genetic resources. The Treaty envisaged the implementation of a funding strategy for plans and programmes that took the Global Plan of Action into account. The Governing Body of the FAO Treaty would periodically establish a target for such funding.
225. The FAO treaty would enter into force 90 days after 40 governments had ratified it. Already 77 countries (including a large number of developing countries, 15 countries of the European Union, the European Communities, the US and Switzerland) had signed the FAO treaty. Eleven countries, including several African countries, Canada, India, Jordan and Nicaragua, had ratified the Treaty or acceded to it. In 2002, many appeals were made for the ratification of the Treaty, so that it might enter into force as soon as possible. These included in the Declaration of the World Food Summit, in the Ministerial Declaration of the Sixth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD in the Hague, and in the Plan of Implementation of the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development.
226. He said that while many breakthroughs had been made during the negotiation of the text of the FAO treaty, some issues had deliberately been left aside for parties to solve later. These included the level, form and manner of monetary payments on commercialization, the mechanism to promote compliance, the development of a funding strategy and the development of a standardized MTA. All these elements were essential and were to be considered in the first meeting of the Governing Body, which would meet after 40 countries had ratified the FAO treaty. Countries may therefore consider it important to be among the first to ratify, so as to ensure that their national interests be taken into account at the Governing Body's first meeting.
227. He expected the FAO treaty to be ratified within the year. With respect to the review of Article 27.3(b) of the TRIPS Agreement, the FAO treaty had been negotiated by the same member countries of the WTO and the CBD and was in harmony with the TRIPS Agreement and the CBD. Cooperation and synergies in the development and implementation of these agreements under national legislation were still necessary. He noted that the TRIPS Agreement, the CBD and the FAO treaty involved three different sectors, namely, trade, environment, and agriculture. The FAO treaty gave specific solutions to some important subjects of direct importance to the agricultural sector, such as access to genetic resources, the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits and farmers' rights. Finally, he said that he would be ready to respond to any question regarding his presentation.