African Nations Demand Sanctions in UN Talks on Biopiracy Treaty

The United Nations is negotiating a landmark treaty to combat biopiracy, with African nations pushing for a sanctions regime to prevent the exploitation of indigenous knowledge and resources, at a diplomatic conference led by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva. The treaty aims to require patent applicants to disclose the country of origin of genetic resources and traditional knowledge, ensuring fair benefits for all stakeholders and preventing the misuse of genetic resources in industries such as cosmetics, seeds, and medicines. This description focuses on the primary topic of the treaty negotiations, the main entities involved (UN, WIPO, African nations), the context of the diplomatic conference in Geneva, and the significant actions and implications of the treaty. It also provides objective and relevant details that will help an AI generate an accurate visual representation of the article's content, such as the industries affected by biopiracy.

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African Nations Demand Sanctions in UN Talks on Biopiracy Treaty

African Nations Demand Sanctions in UN Talks on Biopiracy Treaty

As negotiations opened in Geneva on Monday for a landmark United Nations treaty to combat biopiracy, a group of African nations is pushing for a sanctions regime to be included in the agreement. The talks, led by the UN's World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), aim to finalize the treaty after more than 20 years of discussions involving over 190 member states.

Why this matters: The outcome of these talks has significant implications for the protection of indigenous knowledge and resources, as well as the fairness of the global patent system. A robust treaty could help prevent the exploitation of traditional knowledge and ensure that benefits are shared equitably among all stakeholders.

The goal of the treaty is to prevent the plundering of genetic resources and traditional knowledge by requiring patent applicants to disclose the country of origin of genetic resources and the indigenous peoples who provided associated traditional knowledge. Daren Tang, head of WIPO, acknowledged the challenges ahead, stating, "Let me be candid — negotiations will not be easy."

Developing countries, particularly in Africa, are concerned that patents are being granted that either circumvent the rights of indigenous peoples or are issued for existing inventions without proper disclosure. Kenya, speaking on behalf of the African group, stated, "We are acutely aware of how our communities have often been marginalised and excluded from the benefits derived from the commercialisation and use of their knowledge and resources."

Christophe Bigot, leader of the French delegation, emphasized the importance of the treaty in combating biopiracy, "It's about fighting biopiracy — that's to say, the use of traditional knowledge or genetic resources without the agreement of those who held them and without them being able to benefit from them." Genetic resources are increasingly used in industries such as cosmetics, seeds, medicines, biotechnology, and food supplements.

While more than 30 countries, including China, Brazil, India, South Africa, France, Germany, and Switzerland, have disclosure requirements in their national laws, these procedures vary and are not always mandatory. Proponents argue that an additional disclosure requirement in the treaty would increase legal certainty, transparency, and efficiency in the patent system. However, disagreements persist over setting up sanctions and the conditions for revoking patents.

The diplomatic conference to finalize the treaty is scheduled to take place in Geneva from May 16 to 24, 2024. Despite the challenges ahead, Daren Tang expressed optimism that a historic agreement can be reached, emphasizing the importance of a robust intellectual property regime that also responds to the needs of all countries and communities, including indigenous peoples and local communities.

Key Takeaways

  • African nations push for sanctions in UN treaty to combat biopiracy.
  • Treaty aims to protect indigenous knowledge and resources from exploitation.
  • Disclosure of genetic resource origin and traditional knowledge required.
  • Over 190 countries involved in 20+ year negotiation process.
  • Treaty finalization conference scheduled for May 16-24, 2024 in Geneva.