Bangkok Post, 30 April 2006
Biodiverse nations urged to join forces
Rules needed to stop pillaging of resources
By Kultida Samabuddhi
As one of the world’s top biodiversity-rich countries, Thailand has suffered several painful experiences involving ’’bio-piracy’’ — an act in which industrialised nations seize biological resources from developing countries for commercial exploitation. Among the famous cases are the alleged patenting of medical and cosmetic applications of Thai herbs plao noi and kwao krua by Japanese pharmaceutical firms without following required legal procedures.
In 2001, the government also accused an American geneticist of committing a bio-piracy act by developing a new rice strain from Khao Dok Mali 105 native rice variety.
’’Thailand must join hands with other biodiversity-rich countries in Southeast Asia in setting up international rules on fair benefit-sharing and access to biological resources,’’ said Tewolde Berhan, an Ethiopian expert on biodiversity.
Mr Berhan is one of the seven recipients of this year’s ’’Champions of the Earth’’ award, created by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Mr Berhan was a key negotiator of the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
He has helped strengthen the negotiating positions of developing countries on no-patents on living organisms and the recognition of community rights, so they may better protect themselves.
The pact, which has 188 member countries, including Thailand, is seen as an important step towards halting the global decline of biological resources.
Speaking on the sidelines of the award presentation ceremony held in Singapore last week, Mr Berhan said Asian governments should play a more active role in negotiations and implementations of biodiversity-related global agreements, particularly the CBD and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. He said the most urgent issue at the moment was the drafting of fair benefit-sharing regulations to ensure that the owners of genetic resources received proper advantages from the recipients.
In the next two to four years, negotiations for a fairer deal on access and benefit-sharing of genetic resources and community knowledge on those resources would top the agenda of the global trade talks, he said.
Asian countries, including Thailand, should take a lead role in the negotiations if they wanted to see their interests truly protected, he said.
’’Except for Malaysia, I haven’t seen any other Southeast Asian country being very active in biodiversity negotiations so far.
’’The Philippines has also played a significant role, but Thailand has not been active at all,’’ said Mr Berhan.
He said Thailand stood to lose even more valuable genetic resources if the country signs the Free Trade Area agreement with the United States in its present form. The FTA would allow the US easier access to Thailand’s genetic resources.
The country, therefore, needed to ensure it would share the benefits the US gets out of the resources, he said.
The Thai-US FTA would also force Thailand to ease restrictions on fair access to the benefit-sharing agreement, he said.
’’The US is the country that doesn’t want any international law on access and benefit-sharing,’’ said Mr Berhan.
The UNEP’s Champions of the Earth award has been given to seven ’’green leaders’’ representing each region, who have successfully brought environmental issues to the forefront of political action.
Mikhail Gorbachev, president of the former Russian Federation, also the Champions of the Earth laureate, said one of the most serious environmental problems at the moment was water shortage.
He urged the governments and civic groups to work together to find solutions to rising conflict over water management.