Brussels, 31 March 2004
EC ratifies international treaty on plant genetic resources improving access to seeds and agricultural biodiversity
Today the European Community and nine of its Member States deposited at the FAO their instruments of ratification of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, making it possible for the Treaty to enter into force in 90 days. The Treaty facilitates access (for research and breeding) to seeds of the most important agricultural plant species. The sharing of commercial profits for the benefit of conservation and the sustainable use of genetic resources will be an important step forward in North-South relations.
"Being party to this Treaty is essential for agricultural research and crop breeding in the EU", said David Byrne, EU Commissioner responsible for Health and Consumer Protection, including Plant Health. "I applaud the efforts of the negotiators who achieved the important agreement on sharing commercial profits for the mutual benefit of all. The EU will continue to strive for the inclusion of even more species in the multilateral system."
For the Treaty to enter into force, at least 40 countries had to ratify it. By depositing its instruments of ratification at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) today, the European Community, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and two acceding countries, the Czech Republic and Estonia, raised the number of ratifications from 36 to 47, making it possible for the Treaty to enter into force on 29 June 2004.
What is the International Treaty about?
The International Treaty is a legally binding global framework for the use of genetic resources in research and breeding, and its multilateral system covers the most important (but not all) agricultural crops, including oats, apple, rice, potato, wheat, maize and 29 forage species. Parties to the Treaty will have guaranteed access to such genetic resources and share the commercial and other benefits arising from their use. "Facilitated access" in practice means that: any public or private research or breeding institution in any country that is a contracting party to the Treaty can demand to receive seeds of crop species covered by the Treaty from a public institution in any other contracting country, free of charge and not subject to individual bilateral negotiation.
Previously, plant breeders had to negotiate on a bilateral basis with the country of origin, in accordance with the Convention on Biological Diversity in force since 1993. These conditions were not only costly and time consuming but could also lead to the monopolisation of genetic resources. For European breeders the new Treaty has enormous advantages by guaranteeing facilitated access to and commercialisation of important genetic resources.
On 3 November 2001, the 31st Session of the Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) approved the Treaty in Rome. The International Treaty will be set up in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). It is a major breakthrough because of its legally binding nature and the combination of facilitated access to agricultural plant species with the sharing of commercial benefits of such access.
Owing to the clash of different interests and opinions, the negotiations have been a long and painstaking process. The European Community, represented by the European Commission and its Member States, have contributed to these negotiations. The EC has negotiated constructively in the FAO bodies and has launched various actions to keep and accelerate the progress of the negotiations, through official and informal contacts to all parties involved in the dialogue.
The sharing of commercial and other benefits through the use of genetic resources deriving from developing countries has been a controversial issue in the North-South dialogue. Therefore, the provisions regarding benefit sharing are an essential element of the Treaty and their successful implementation will be the key to its success. The European Union will continue its constructive contribution in the negotiations with regard to a standard material transfer agreement.
The initial suggestion of the European Union was to cover all agricultural crops by a multilateral system under the Treaty. The European Union will continue its efforts to take in additional crops. The Commission's proposal on the ratification (COM(2003) 602 final), including the text of the Treaty are available on the Internet at: