Rich reluctant to pay for medicines, biodiversity deal stuck

October 26th, 2010 - 7:21 pm ICT by IANS  

By Joydeep Gupta
Nagoya (Japan), Oct 26 (IANS) The ongoing UN biodiversity summit remained stuck here Tuesday over the reluctance of rich countries to pay more for medicines and cosmetics derived from plants in poor countries. Negotiators from 192 nations failed to meet the deadline to send a draft deal to the 100-odd ministers arriving here Wednesday.

A senior member of the Indian government delegation said negotiators had tried through the night to get rich countries to commit higher payment for medicinal and aromatic plants, but had failed, “though the pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies in the developed countries make billions out of these plants every year”.

The issue of these firms patenting what has been traditional knowledge in developing countries for centuries has been an emotive one in India since attempts to patent Basmati rice, neem and turmeric hit the headlines.

Still, keeping in mind their role as hosts for the next UN biodiversity summit - scheduled in Hyderabad in 2012 - the Indian delegates have been trying to mediate. So far, their efforts in this crucial bit of an international agreement to protect biodiversity have not succeeded.

Part of the reason is that Brazil - the developing country that has the largest repository of such biological wealth - has insisted at the negotiations here that rich countries must agree to better terms over what is called access and benefit sharing. There were reports that delegates from Brazil and the European Union clashed repeatedly over this during the closed door negotiations overnight.

The over-5,000 NGO representatives gathered here to watch the Oct 18-29 summit were a dispirited lot Tuesday, with many talking of a “Copenhagen-like failure” that would set back efforts to protect biodiversity.

Officials of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) however kept their spirits up, hoping the ministers would hammer out an agreement to save the world’s plants and animals where their bureaucrats had failed.

As the negotiators talk, each year 13 million hectares of forest are lost by conversion to other land uses, or degraded, according to CBD data. The main driver of deforestation is conversion to agriculture, which itself is linked to growing global demand for meat and for biofuel crops.

Other human activities that greatly weaken forests and reduce the services they provide to us include man-made fires, unsustainable bushmeat hunting; infrastructure development, mining and oil exploitation; pollution and climate change.

(Joydeep Gupta can be contacted at joydeepgupta1@gmail.com)

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