TWN Info Service on Biodiversity and Traditional Knowledge (Oct15/02)
12 October 2015
Third World Network

WIPO: Disagreement over mandate renewal of work on genetic resources, traditional knowledge and folklore

Geneva, 12 Oct (Mirza Alas and K.M. Gopakumar) – Developed countries are reluctant to renew the mandate of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) for text-based negotiations for an international legal instrument.

The 55th session of the WIPO General Assemblies is taking place from 5 to 14 October at the WIPO headquarters in Geneva. Among the decisions to be taken is the future of the IGC.

The IGC was established in 2000 as a forum to discuss (i) access to genetic resources and benefit sharing; (ii) protection of traditional knowledge, whether or not associated with those resources; and (iii) the protection of expressions of folklore.

In 2010, the WIPO General Assembly provided the mandate of IGC for a text-based negotiation for an international legal instrument. This mandate was extended again in 2012 and 2013. According to the 2013 General Assembly decision, the General Assembly in 2014 was to take stock of the situation and to decide on convening a Diplomatic Conference to conclude the negotiations. There was no decision with regard to the IGC due to lack of consensus on the diplomatic conference. However, the developed countries agreed to extend the mandate for a text-based negotiation.

This year developed countries, mainly the European Union, Japan and the United States opposed the renewal of the mandate for a text-based negotiation. Many developing country delegates argue that non-renewal of the mandate would erase all of the work that has been done through the years.

[Until 2014 the IGC had negotiated three texts viz. Genetic Resources (GR), Traditional Knowledge (TK), and Traditional Cultural Expressions (TCE). There are three proposals before the IGC. The 55th General Assemblies of WIPO had received a proposal from the African Group for the conversion of the IGC into a Standing Committee, with a mandate to hold text-based negotiations on GR, TK and TCE. That proposal is contained in document (WO/GA/47/16).

The Group of Latin American and Caribbean countries (GRULAC) also submitted a proposal directly to the facilitator of the informal consultations group, while the Holy See, Kenya Switzerland, Mozambique, New Zealand and Norway submitted a joint proposal (WO/GA/47/18).  All of the proposals requested the mandate of the IGC to be renewed. 

The Assembly also received a proposal from the United States (WO/GA/47/17) to allow the mandate of the IGC to lapse without a renewal. Since the start of the Assemblies the IGC agenda item had only been shortly taken up at the plenary and moved quickly into informal consultations.]

On Saturday 10 October as delegates met at the plenary there was a clear division between a big majority of developing countries requesting the mandate of the IGC for a text-based negotiation to be renewed, and developed countries holding on to their position that new methodologies were necessary for the work of the IGC and continue to refuse to extend the mandate for a text based negotiation.

Many developing countries took the floor during the plenary and asked the Chair that since the informal discussions were not producing results, to start the negotiation in plenary. According to developing countries the discussions in plenary would put on record the specific opposition of developed countries on a text-based negotiation. Developed countries refused to discuss the renewal of IGC mandate in the plenary.  In the absence of consensus the Chair suggested to continue the informal consultations.

At the time of writing the facilitator of the informal process Mr. Ian Gross is carrying out bilateral consultations to bring a third draft proposal late afternoon of 12 October. After the circulation of the draft the facilitator is expected to meet the regional group coordinator to hammer out consensus.

During the first week of the General Assembly the facilitator came up with two draft proposals.

Many developing country delegates informed Third World Network (TWN) that the second draft proposal of the facilitator contains two options for the work program on text-based negotiations. According to the first proposal there are 6 round of negotiations spread over 2016-17 dedicating two rounds for GR, TK and TCE.  As per the second proposal three rounds of negotiations are dedicated one each on GR, TK and TCE.  Both options propose the 2017 General assembly to take stock and decide on   whether to convene a diplomatic conference or to continue negotiations.

However, developed countries are refusing to accept these options. However, developing country delegates informed TWN that even though the word negotiation is mentioned in the work program, which is annexed to the proposal, it does not contain phrases like legally binding instrument. This would amount to rolling back of the past years’ work.

On 10 October Brazil on behalf of GRULAC, the African Group, the majority of the Asia Pacific Group and the Like-Minded countries made a short and powerful statement on Saturday morning for the renewal of the mandate and saw many countries supporting their position. The United States continued to hold its position from its submitted proposal. The European Union had not submitted any proposals either for or against the renewal of the mandate and in fact it was not until the discussions started on the IGC mandate that they voiced their position not to renew the mandate of the committee.

Below are the highlights of some of the statements.

Brazil on behalf of GRULAC, African Group, Like-Minded countries and the majority of the Asia Pacific Group thanked the facilitator Ian Goss for having prepared a second version of a draft text for the renewal of a mandate. Brazil stated that the protection of GRs, TK and TCEs plays a central role in the normative agenda of WIPO and a mandate to continue text-based negotiations on these subjects must be approved.

In this sense, the groups reaffirmed their priority of the continuation of text-based negotiations, emphasizing that the voice of more than 2/3 of the membership of this organization should not be ignored.

South Africa supported the statement made by GRULAC and stated that the principles of the Committee have been mainstreamed since 2009 and the explanations of why the work should be abandoned should be clear.

Indonesia stated that the committee has seen progress particularly on the organizational aspects and since 2009 text-based negotiations. Indonesia called on Member States not to move backward and undermine WIPO’s reputation.

China voiced its support for the joint statement and hoped that the mandate will be renewed.

Algeria also expressed its support and endorsed the statements delivered by Brazil and reminded the plenary that it is a vital matter and concerns of over 2/3 of the organization’s membership.

Egypt stressed that the majority of countries have looked at renewal of the mandate. It invited Member States to move to text-based negotiations so the work of the last 15 years is not thrown away.

Jamaica emphasized that the 2014 discussions came to a hold because no agreement could be reached on the way forward to have a diplomatic conference or not.  Jamaica stated that there must be a clear articulation of the reason not to renew the mandate (referring to those that did not want renewal), to seek to articulate what was the problem of the text-base negotiations. If we can have clear articulation then we can arrive to a place where we can agree on the way forward. The majority wants to move forward with this process.

Nigeria, Malawi, India, Uganda, Cameron, Paraguay, Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, Chile, Namibia and Panama also took the floor and explicitly supported the joint statement made by Brazil. It is learned that except for the Republic of Korea and Singapore all countries from the Asia Pacific group supported the renewal of the IGC mandate for a text-based negotiation.

The United States said that the ongoing consultations seem to bring forward flexibilities and was hopeful that consensus can be reached. It thanked Brazil for the groups’ statement and noted their support for the ongoing work on the issues.  The US stressed that the method of the IGC has not been effective and noted their willingness to continue the work but a new method is required. The current text is unworkable, the US said.

Luxembourg supported the US statement.

Japan underlined the consensus basis of the organization, adding it did not use the argument of numbers as a way to support something because it is not a productive discussion. Japan noted that it was important to focus on the facilitation process to find a solution.