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Alla Röhricht

International Workshop on Access to Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Benefit Sharing

Bremen, 15.-16. Februar 2008

The Workshop took place on 15th-16th February in Bremen. Its aim was to provide the opportunity to discuss themes in preparation to COP in Bonn in May 2008. Access and benefit sharing were a major topic.

Several problems have been discussed: legal Instruments which can be harmonized on the international level; specific solutions not only for single states, but for “horizontal” transfer among states; the possibilities of using categories from the intellectual property regime for traditional knowledge; the problems of diffused knowledge; suitable administrative instruments. Scientists from many countries, e.g. Kenya, Brazil, Peru and Venezuela, spoke up. Fresh empirical and legal research was brought in from the international project sponsored by the German Research Foundation and organized by the University of Bremen.

The workshop was opened with an introduction by Prof. Gerd Winter. He described many relevant definitions and named some dilemmas of property in genetic information.

The first section about the theme “Endangered property? The Value of Genetic Resources and Traditional Knowledge and Common Trends of (Mis-) Appropriation” was started by sociologist Dr. John Kleeba from Brazil with a resume about the case of Natura (a cosmetic company who developed beauty products and perfumes of natural herbs). The main problem of this case were the rights on traditional knowledge of the herb providers.

This very interesting summary was followed by Dr. Evanson Chege Kamau from Kenya with the topic “Protecting Traditional Knowledge amid Diffused Knowledge: A new task for ABS Regime? A Kenyan Legal View”. He brought up a very important thought that traditional knowledge is a dynamic process and should be protected because of its different functions. Traditional knowledge, said the Kenyan lawyer, who studied law in Sowjet Union and got his doctoral level in Bremen, is not a static process, it is advancing itself and it’s not enough to preserve it, the traditional people should have room to enhance their knowledge. The problem is that traditional knowledge is partly diffused and hard to define in exact terms.

After this very useful topic the turn to speak was given to the proxy holder Sandra Kishi from Brazil. She talked about “Prior Informed Consent Requirements in Brazil in a Reformist Prospective” and spoke about necessity of anthropological studies. She was followed by Brendan Lima from Peru, who described the role of customary law and practice in ABS and traditional knowledge. He also gave examples of some case studies from Peru. He underlined the importance of building bridges between the countries to clear the ABS problems.

The second section was started by Anne Angwanyi from Kenya with the topic on law making on ABS. She described the Kenyan experiences in a very interesting way and talked very open about practical difficulties in the realization of ABS regime. She also told that the Kenyan law is related to English and American law. It knows three different property regimes: government land; trust land; private land. Kenyan law says that genetic resources belong to the people of Kenya. The only problem is that is totally unclear who is meant by this.

After her speech Dr. Juliana Santilli from Brazil, who shared very impressive Brazilian experiences and introduced very useful and most realistic proposals for reforms. She suggested organizing two separate funds, one for the protection of biodiversity and one for the protection of traditional knowledge. The money, which came in thanks to ABS regime, should not go to the States, where it loses his ends, but to these funds, where it would be spent on purpose.

She was followed by Mandy Taylor from S.-Africa with the theme “Regulating Bioprospecting and Biotrade in Southern Africa: Challenges and Experiences in ABS”. She analyzed the problems of ownership on genetic resources and traditional knowledge. The question is who the owner really is - the state itself, the physical landowner or some community, who was keeping this knowledge alive? In addition to that we have to remember that in different countries different property regimes exist. Private property does not mean the same thing all over the world as it does in Europe.

Mrs. Taylor was followed by Prof. Monique Simmonds, a scientist from the UK, who gave some information about botanical garden networks and told that her organization has 100 partners in 50 different countries. She also brought the attention to the dangerous situation of biodiversity and presented several protectional programs, among them in Guyana and Costa Rica.

After it Prof. Alexander Proeßl from Cologne analyzed exactly and with a lot of details the relation between the ABS and marine genetic resources.

The third section on the next day was started by Niels Louwaars, a Dutch specialist in agriculture. He talked about problems of realizations of ABS regime in agriculture and stimulated an impressive discussion. After that Maria J. O. Jimenez shared experiences of Venezuela and spoke a lot about problems with capacity building. She was followed by Prof. Gerd Winter, who analyzed the streamlining access procedures. He brought up the problem of unclarity of the access process and mentioned that the applicant was often lost in the multitude of administrations. He presented a conception of full integration based on unitary administration, where the applications should be signed by national environment managing authorities. This suggestion was challenged with the argument that this system would propably not work outside Germany. Prof. Winter countered that it is worth trying, because it’s a lot easier for an applicant to work with one agency. In his speech he also mentioned the conflicts between the communities and state structure and unclarity of the position of landowners.

He was followed by Dr. Morten Walloe Tvedt from Norway with the topic “Beyond Access: Tying User Countries into ABS”.

Afterwards several german lawyers spoke on the topic of EU-approach to ABS problems, among them were PD DR. Godt, Susanne Friedricht from German Federal Nature Conservation Agency and Prof. Stoll. They were followed by Kent Nnadozie from Italy, who analyzed lessons taken for the CBD (Convention of Biodiversity).

Altogether it was a very productive workshop and some realistic solutions on ABS problems were found, a lot of experience was described and exchanged.

So, last but not least, I have to thank Prof. Gerd Winter of Bremen University very much for giving me the chance to be part of such an inspirational circle and learn so much about different countries.

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