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Statements in International Organisations


United Nations - General Assembly: Ad-Hoc Open-ended Informal WG to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction; Agenda item 5(d) (New York)

Statement on behalf of the European Union by Mr. Aleksander Čičerov, Minister Plenypotentiary at the Permanent Mission of Slovenia to the United Nations


Co-Chairpersons, I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union.

As expressed several times during this meeting, marine biodiversity is highly threatened by various activities and phenomena. Accelerated loss of marine biodiversity also leads to a decline in genetic diversity, and thus not only reduces the capability of ecosystems to adapt to future natural and human induced changes, but also reduces possibilities to explore and benefit from the vast reservoir of marine genetic resources. Against this background the EU is convinced that marine genetic resources must be addressed in an integrated approach to global oceans governance in ABNJ. We also believe that the question of fair and equitable benefit sharing in relation to genetic resources from ABNJ should deserve the full attention of the international community and we are open to have a discussion on this issue.

As a starting point with regard to this issue, we want to reiterate that UNCLOS establishes the legal framework for all activities in the oceans. It should remain as such and its jurisdictional framework should in no way be undermined. This framework applies also to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity, and in this respect also to MGR, including MGR in ABNJ. To advance the international discussion on marine genetic resources in ABNJ within this framework, we suggest focusing on practical and concrete steps rather than on extensive and ultimately not conclusive discussions on the legal status of these resources.

Regarding the practical and concrete steps mentioned, ICP8 in June 2007 in our view suggested that it is useful to distinguish between (1) the collection or harvesting of MGR, (2) scientific research on MGR and (3) the commercialisation of MGR.

Turning to collection and harvesting of MGR, the EU considers that it is important to address the environmental impacts that might arise from the collection of marine genetic resources in ABNJ. Potential impacts will depend on the type of collection activity and on the marine ecosystem from which MGR are taken. Bio-prospecting normally involves taking few samples of material, whereas the harvesting of MGR for a specific purpose may involve collecting large quantities of material, more similar to fishing activities. This highlights the value of assessing potential impacts and, if necessary, taking measures to minimise potential impacts and to protect marine biodiversity from damages that may result from the sampling and harvesting of MGR. The EU suggests developing as a first step international guidance on the use of impact assessment on MGR in ABNJ. Further work could include unilateral declarations or certification schemes, codes of conduct and/or more detailed impact assessment requirements at the national level for collection activities with potential adverse effects. Also the relationship with government-funded research could be established in such guidance.

As regards scientific research, ICP-8 indicated that there is a growing scientific interest in MGR in general, including in MGR that have been collected from ABNJ. It must be emphasised, however, that marine research in ABNJ remains a very expensive endeavour, especially when carried out in extreme environments. It is thus not surprising that by far the majority of access to MGR in ABNJ seems to happen in the context of scientific research projects that are mostly funded from public sources and that are often multinational in character. Against this background, the EU is convinced that more attention should be given to the effective implementation of relevant provisions of UNCLOS on Marine Scientific Research. Practical steps and measures should focus on the sharing of information and knowledge resulting from research on MGR that have been collected from ABNJ as well as on increasing the participation of researchers from developing countries in relevant research projects.

Let us now turn to the politically sensitive issue of sharing in a fair and equitable manner eventual benefits that may arise if MGR from ABNJ or products developed on their basis are commercialised. Although ICP-8 indicated that to date very few products based on MGR from ABNJ have been commercialised, the EU holds the view that states should seriously discuss options for facilitating access to samples of MGR that have been collected from ABNJ as well as for sharing in a fair and equitable way benefits that may arise in this regard.

A reference point in this regard, in our view, is the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. This Treaty has established a so called "multilateral system" that includes a negotiated selection of 64 plant genetic resources that are considered most important for world food security and the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Material held in the multilateral system is effectively put into the public domain. It can easily be accessed, provided that the recipient of material commits to comply with pre-determined conditions for the fair and equitable sharing of benefits. Recipients can choose between freely sharing any new developments with others for further research or, if they want to keep the developments to themselves, to pay a percentage of any commercial benefit derived from their research into a common fund. These funds are used for the additional benefit sharing mechanisms of building capacity, for access to and transfer of technology as well as for information sharing. The FAO ITPGRFA illustrates that the international community has been able to develop a functional multilateral system for handling plant genetic resources in the public domain. As such it may provide us with promising avenues for dealing with MGR in ABNJ.

The EU views that, as part of an integrated approach to marine biodiversity in ABNJ, states could consider setting up a system for MGR from ABNJ, inspired by this example of the FAO ITPGRFA. We are ready to explore with partners whether this option would present a promising way forward in the debate on marine genetic resources.


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Date: 05.05.2008