Access and Benefit-Sharing (ABS)

Image of a computer-generated DNA model. The fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources (access and benefit-sharing or ABS) is the third objective of the Convention on Biological Diversity, ratified by Canada in 1992. Genetic resources are material of plant, animal, microbial or other origin containing functional units of heredity and of actual or potential value. Specific properties of genetic resources are used in a wide range of scientific, environmental and commercial applications, such as developing new medicines, improving crop yields and modifying industrial processes. The traditional knowledge held by Aboriginal peoples and that is associated to genetic resources and their use may also be of value to new users. According to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the benefits (monetary or non-monetary) arising from the utilization of these resources or their associated traditional knowledge should be shared in a fair and equitable way and upon mutually agreed terms with the provider of these genetic resources or associated traditional knowledge.

In September 2004, the Federal/Provincial/Territorial (F/P/T) Ministers responsible for Forests, Wildlife, Endangered Species and Fisheries and Aquaculture recognized the need for the stewardship of Canadian genetic resources. They created the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Working Group on Access and Benefit-sharing (FPTWGABS) and mandated it to advance the policy discussions on this complex and emerging issue. One of the key deliverables that the FPTWGABS was instructed to produce was a policy paper on ABS. The document entitled ABS Policies in Canada: Scoping the Questions and Issues was approved by FPT Ministers in November 2005 and describes the objectives and principles which should form the basis for ABS in Canada.

In order to better define and understand Canada's interests in ABS, a series of awareness-building activities was organized. Under the leadership of Environment Canada and in close collaboration with provinces and territories, the Government of Canada organized different workshops whose main goal was to inform Canadian stakeholders of the current on-going policy process in Canada and gather their views as they relate to ABS. Between 2004 and 2006, scientists, industry representatives, aboriginal representatives, representatives from non-governmental organizations, academics, policy-makers and lawyers from across the country were invited to attend the following workshops on access and benefit-sharing:

  • The Science and Technology Agenda Expert's Workshop
    (December 2004)
  • Northern Workshop on Access to Genetic Resources and
    Associated Traditional Knowledge and Benefit-Sharing
    (March 2005)
  • Genetic Resources in Canadian Agriculture
    (November 2005)
  • Access to Forest Genetic Resources and Benefit-sharing
    (February 2006)
  • National Meeting on ABS and Certificates
    (November 2006)

In the spring of 2009, Environment Canada, on behalf of the federal, provincial and territorial governments, conducted an engagement process to seek views from Aboriginal peoples and key stakeholders on the development of ABS policy in Canada. The engagement process was based on the discussion paper: Access to Genetic Resources and Sharing the Benefits from Their Use in Canada: Opportunities for a New Policy Direction. This paper presented options for the approach and the eventual implementation of an ABS domestic policy in Canada as well as the way traditional knowledge could be addressed in that domestic policy.   

Any decision on ABS policy in Canada will take into account the views of interested individuals, organizations and Aboriginal groups. If it is decided to proceed with ABS policy in Canada, further discussions could be held at that point.