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The Nagoya Protocol

Global rules for the use of genetic material in terms of research and development

The history of caoutchouc shows why the Nagoya Protocol is necessary. Traditionally used by Maya and Aztecs, the sticky substance is brought to Europe by a French explorer in 1734. A hundred years later, the US-American Charles Goodyear invents vulcanisation, which turns caoutchouc into rubber. Caoutchouc is now in great demand, letting Brazil earn fortunes by its exports. The export of caoutchouc seeds is subject to death penalty. But this does not discourage a British adventurer smuggling it out of the country. From then on, caoutchouc is extracted in plantation economy in the British colonies, and Brazil is pushed out of the market.

How to avoid a trade conflict when it comes to such a precious plant? In the Nagoya Protocol, the signatory states have agreed on common rules for the utilisation to genetic resources on their territories. There are two principles: One is the prior informed consent saying that nobody must explore the plant and animal life of a certain country unless it has received permission to do so (all states are obliged to provide a transparent way for how to obtain such a permit). Two is benefit sharing. Benefits arising from research on commercialisation of the genetic resources shall be shared in a fair and equitable way with the country of origin, including research findings and possible profit from commercialization.

The protection of the rights of indigenous people and local communities is also part of the Nagoya Protocol. Many times those people have used plants for centuries that are yet to be “discovered” by science. In regard to the permit of access and the sharing of benefits, the wish of indigenous people and local communities must be respected and included.

Both principles as well as the indigenous rights have already been covered by the Convention on Biological Diversity, in which signatory states have committed themselves to the comprehensive protection of biodiversity. The Convention was adopted at the Earth Summit of Rio de Janeiro in 1992. However, it lacked necessary specifications to guarantee a harmonised implementation of the access to genetic resources. Further negotiations were started and took another two decades. It was in the Japanese city of Nagoya in 2010 when the Nagoya Protocol was adopted. It finally came into force in 2014.

In the glossary you will find the most important terms of the Nagoya Protocol.