Break-Out Group 1

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The groups were asked to address a set of questions during their discussions:

1.       Which aspects of the issue area under discussion has been or should be addressed with an MSP – and what would such a process ideally look like?

2.       What are the key principles, components, and conditions of successful MSPs?

3.       What should be principles and practical components of linkages between MSPs and official decision-making processes?


Group 1: Biodiversity, bio-prospecting and access to health

Speaker 1: Alejandro Argumedo, Indigenous Peoples Biodiversity Network, Peru

Speaker 2: Michael Dorsey, Justice & Sustainability Associates, US

Chair: Lynne Joiner, Journalist, US

Rapporteur: Rosalie Gardiner, UNED Forum

Alejandro Argumedo gave the first presentation on "Access and Benefit Sharing – Bio-Prospecting for New Medical Products", in which he focused on access to essential and cheap drugs for the local level - “some 80% of people globally are still depend on plant remedies for curing ailments”. He recognised that some issues may never be reconciled through MSPs, e.g. application of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) vs. recognition of traditional rights. The concept of stakeholders can give the impression that all stakeholders are able to participate in an MSP at the same level, however, Indigenous Peoples often have very different power relations and ideological beliefs compared to other stakeholders. He highlighted the mostly defensive reactions that have so far taken place during the development of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which have been mainly characterised by distrust between stakeholders due to these imbalanced power relations. 

He went on to consider IPRs, which create a new form of ownership over biological resources; he argued that patenting leads to exclusive rights, limiting access for some people to produce and obtain essential drugs. The crucial issue is therefore a symbolic “right of ownership”. The CBD has changed the rules of the game in terms of access to IPR shares of benefits in the 10 years since Rio. Often, Indigenous Peoples interests are not recognised by governments who allow foreign companies to bio-prospect, therefore the CBD is crucial to formally encourage governments in recognising broader interests. Key issues that need continued discussion include Prior Informed Consent, control of access and user responsibility. He recommended that multilateral instruments should always include civil society discussions to ensure that the process produces concrete and equitable solutions. He also said that sometimes MSPs might be founded on an inequitable context and therefore could not reach a fair conclusion.

Michael Dorsey gave the second presentation on bio-prospecting defining bio-prospecting as an attempt to identify, categorise and commercialise biological resources. Bio-prospecting is not new, e.g. bio-prospecting has been going on in the Upper Amazon, Ecuador since arrival of the Spaniards, but it now comes under the term of bio-prospecting.

He outlined five driving factors for bio-prospecting:

  1. A globalising market for biological resources enhances the urgency and demand for resources. A whole range of actors are involved from small business, pharmaceutical and universities.

  2. There are greater efforts to link bio-prospecting activities with the conservation of biodiversity.

  3. The new system created by the CBD has made biodiversity the property of States – where before there was “open access”.

  4. The technology for research and development is now very fast and cheap. It is possible to test vast quantities of potential chemicals against a variety of ailments.

  5. Larger businesses have to pay more attention to legislation, as they risk accusations of bio-piracy. Small firms seem to be less aware, less regulated and less able to afford such legal requirements. There is a lack of regulation and enforcement for these smaller prospecting groups. 

The group discussed key elements for MSPs. First, transparency, in terms of access to negotiations and explanation of the process. There was general agreement that benefit-sharing is treated differently in different countries due to different agreements; this diversity can reduce transparency and therefore trust within different stakeholder groups. MSPs can help to develop bench-marking and assessment of such problems to help to increase transparency.

The knowledge gap is another key issue when seeking to engage stakeholders. The internet was identified as a very effective means in addressing the knowledge gap in the developed world, however, it isn’t sufficient to reach people in the developing world, especially since English remains the dominant language online. Clearly both developed and developing countries need to be publicly engaged. Also global and local players need to be better linked, which would help to reduce the power gap between the North and the South. Synergies could be developed by using MSPs at different levels to help inform multi-lateral legal processes. 

The following section outlines the workshop’s comments on the four workshop questions.

1. Which aspects have been addressed by MSP – what would that process look like?

Around the official CBD process there has been a form of MSP – working groups were set up involving business, communities and governments to discuss the issues of access and benefit sharing, tourism and traditional knowledge. Some key elements to enhance this process, as identified by the workshop, included: 

Define principles – frame the discussion by the theme / key issues that need to be addressed e.g. access and benefit sharing. A clear and open process at the outset helps build group confidence in the process. Also ensure prior consent so that all stakeholders agree and accept the context of the MSP. 

Define how the MSP will be linked to official decision-making processes, as well as in terms of possible practical outputs of MSPs, e.g. Biosafety Protocol, certification of bio-prospecting, guidebook about patenting and prospecting. This is important to help ensure credibility and accountability.

MSPs should learn lessons from other processes, e.g. utilise the World Commission on Dams guidelines document.

MSPs should ensure wide diversity of stakeholder groups beyond Agenda 21 Major Groups, e.g. older people, religious communities.

Formal reporting mechanisms are important.

Facilitators and participants may require capacity building in terms of leadership development and management skills.

Funding is crucial to ensure an adequate process, where typically only the large players, i.e. the private sector, have the resources and time to invest in effective participation.

MSPs should try to bring in new actors that might assist in finding innovative solutions.

Participants should be given the space to “agree to disagree”.

2. What are the key principles, components and conditions for an effective MSP?

A time-bound plan of work with benchmarked stages throughout the process.

A limited term of membership in the process, revolving stakeholder input, e.g. ”wheel model”. 

Participants carry a dual responsibility. Reporting to the MSP and taking information back to their constituencies – there's often a gap or lack of transparency as to who / what represents a legitimate constituency.

Identify goals of the MSP within the group to ensure that all are in agreement with the process.

Allow flexibility in the framework of the MSP, to take account of a dynamic process and changing views of participants.

Break down broad aims into manageable elements.

Start with easier issues first to build group trust.

Build capacity to ensure effective participation in process – particularly in relation to the principles of dialogue / communication.

Invite a broad and cross-sectoral range of groups to create a more even playing field. Avoid just involving the same old faces and “elites”.

A focal and representative group should decide an agenda for the dialogue – seeking consensus on the aims, principles of process and desired outcomes.

An organisational group will be necessary to administer the MSP.

Consider public relations impact when conducting an MSP to gain wider civil society “ownership” of a process; public and media transparency are therefore important.

3. Linkages between MSP and official processes?

Funding mechanisms: these will often come from official sources and therefore require political recognition of the need to engage other stakeholders and ensure the dialogue feeds into decision-making more formally.

Linking informal and formal processes leads to cross-fertilisation of processes. This could be through informal discussions between officials and MSP stakeholders or formal reporting mechanisms.

Trade-offs and differing interests of officials and stakeholders need to be made transparent.

There is a need to address how to deal with bribery and corruption which could undermine the legitimacy of an MSP. 

There is no “one size fits all” model for an MSP. 

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Contact Minu Hemmati and Felix Dodds for further information.