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Environment

Factbox: World agrees how to share nature's riches

(Reuters) - After some 20 years of talks, nearly 200 nations agreed on Saturday rules for sharing genetic resources, a step that could hand developing nations billions of dollars from drug, agri-resources and cosmetics firms.

The access and benefit-sharing pact aims to give nations much better control over resources, from trees to fungi and from fish to frogs, that can lead to cures for cancer or new crops more resistant to climate change.

Following are some details of the pact, called the Nagoya Protocol, which was a central focus of two weeks of U.N. talks in the Japanese city of Nagoya on saving nature. The talks ended on Saturday.

HISTORY

Fair sharing of genetic resources is a key goal of the Convention on Biological Diversity that went into force in 1993.

Voluntary measures were not adopted until 2002, and in 2006 a target was set: to agree on a legally binding treaty by 2010.

The issue is complex and controversial, and some pharmaceutical firms have said they fear it will be more expensive to develop new drugs and harder to get patents.

WHAT ARE GENETIC RESOURCES?

Under the Convention, genetic material refers to anything from plants, animals and microbes that can be inherited or passed on, while genetic resources means any genetic material of actual or potential value. Each nation has the sovereign right to own and manage its resources.

MAIN POINTS OF THE NEW PACT

-- Covers use of genetic material, such as research into and development of the genetic and/or biochemical composition of a genetic resource.

The new pact also defines the use of biotechnology, and the controversial area of derivatives, such as snake venom, tree sap and enzymes. Some countries feared this area would mean too much regulation of nature’s resources, while developing nations saw it as a loophole that needed to be closed if, for example, a chemical derived from snake venom leads to a valuable new drug.

-- The final text sidesteps specific references to whether benefits from genetic resources will apply after the new protocol is ratified, or before the 1993 start of the Convention.

Some developing nations want to take into account benefits acquired historically, such as during colonial times or from new drugs derived from specimens collected years ago and now stored in university or museum vaults. Rich nations firmly opposed any treaty that would be retrospective.

-- It creates a global benefit-sharing mechanism for situations where benefits are derived “in transboundary situations or for which it is not possible to grant or obtain prior consent.”

-- It says nations should take action to ensure the fair sharing of any benefits from genetic resources owned by indigenous groups.

-- It recognizes the value of “traditional knowledge,” so that local communities’ knowledge of forests and their products will be rewarded.

-- It creates a clearing house to share data, and outlines the rules of compliance and dispute resolution as well as rules to monitor the use of genetic resources, such as the creation of designated check points.

National agencies, research institutions or other bodies could monitor use.

Writing by David Fogarty, editing by Tim Pearce

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