ABS Policies in Canada

Exectutive Summary

Access and benefit-sharing (ABS) is an emerging policy area, promoting the fair and equitable access to genetic resources, and the sharing of the benefits derived from their utilization. This policy paper is a part of a broader task related to genetic resources given to the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Working group on ABS (FPTWGABS) by Federal/Provincial/Territorial (F/P/T) Ministers of Forests, Wildlife, Endangered Species and Fisheries and Aquaculture, in September 2004.

The paper identifies the parameters of ABS as a policy issue by identifying its key policy components. It translates some of the key principles contained in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), such as "the transfer of accountability for genetic resources to the Sovereign State", into concrete issues that need to be considered from a Federal/ Provincial/Territorial approach. It explores the connections with other relevant and key Federal/Provincial/Territorial policy issues and sectors, such as the contribution ABS can make to economic development through the bio-based economy, its role in fostering sustainable development strategies, and its relationship with the patent system. It also proposes a set of principles that will guide the ABS policy development process at all levels.

Building on the draft Scoping Paper on ABS presented to Deputy Ministers in June 2005, this paper takes a more focussed approach as a concrete way to move the ABS policy exercise to a second stage. The policy analysis contained in the present paper, read in conjunction with the key elements of the ABS Policies in Canada: Engagement Strategy, will contribute to developing a targeted approach to ABS policy development. Together, they provide direction for fully engaging relevant stakeholders and for shaping the many questions to be answered by jurisdictions in this emerging policy area.

Future discussion and analysis on ABS, and the further elaboration of ABS policies in Canada, could be usefully framed through consideration of the following:

What relevant policy goals does ABS touch on?

  • Improving Canada's economic competitiveness through sustainable development opportunities
  • Promoting the conservation and sustainable use of Canada's biodiversity
  • Supporting research and innovation in science and technology
  • Improving the health and social welfare of Canadians

How can ABS contribute to these policy goals?

  • By creating a policy and legal framework that provides certainty to investors and biotechnology firms
  • By creating market conditions that support both R&D in genetic resources, and the public bodies (communities, governments, institutions) that steward them
  • By developing common practices that promote compliance with community Codes of Ethics and legal certainty within the research community
  • By providing mechanisms for the public sector to benefit from biotechnological developments
  • By protecting Canadian genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge from foreign misappropriation

What are the key policy challenges that arise from the implementation of ABS?

  • Defining the scope of ABS policy
  • Facilitating access: granting prior informed consent (PIC) and identification of granting authorities
  • Sharing the Benefits: negotiating mutually-agreed terms (MAT)
  • Devising compliance measures: Documentation, tracking and compliance
  • Protecting traditional knowledge

How can those challenges be addressed?

  • By an improved coordination and consistency between policies and legislation that facilitates access and benefit sharing of genetic resources in a number of jurisdictions, including with a possible international legally-binding ABS regime
  • By increasing the level of knowledge of ABS principles and objectives among all stakeholders and levels of governments

The further elaboration of ABS policies in Canada should consider and take into account the following core principles:

  • Environment-focused - contributing to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity,
  • Practical and Economically Supportive - generating and sharing economic benefits of the utilization of genetic resources among both providers and users as a means of contributing to sustainable development,
  • Simple, Efficient and Adaptable - taking into account different sectors and allowing for different approaches in different jurisdictions,
  • Supportive of current governmental policies, and building on and respecting Canada's existing international commitments,
  • Balanced, equitable and transparent - balancing responsibilities between users and providers of genetic resources in a manner that is clear and whose rationale makes sense to all concerned,
  • Inclusive, developed and implemented with the appropriate involvement of Aboriginal groups and communities.

Creative policy work in the area of ABS, based on sound and agreed-upon principles and clear key objectives, will lay the basis of a renewed Canadian commitment to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity and demonstrate the positive impacts of jointly developing innovative policies.

Exectutive Summary