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ABS compliant value chains & BioTrade

What are ABS compliant value chains?

Genetic resources are used by different market sectors to develop products that contribute to human well-being and constitute a large part of the world economy.

Among the most important sectors are the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries along with biotechnology, agriculture and horticulture. The products range from medical drugs and skin lotion to improved staple crops.

Various sectors use genetic resources in different ways, but all benefit from the Nagoya Protocol as it provides legal certainty for their businesses: clear and transparent procedures for access to genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge in exchange for the fair and equitable sharing of benefits.

These procedures are the backbone of ABS-compliant value chains. They link the private sector, stakeholders from research and development, governments and indigenous peoples and local communities.

In different industry sectors, companies rely on constant access to raw materials for their specific value chains. From bioprospecting for genetic resources and the use of the associated traditional knowledge to the development and marketing of the resulting products, these value chains generate monetary or non-monetary benefits that can contribute to the conservation of biodiversity and improve the livelihoods of rural populations.

ABS-compliant value chains create win-win-win situations for providers and users of genetic resources as well as for biodiversity. For this to happen, close cooperation with the private sector is necessary.

What makes biotrade and BioTrade different?

BioTrade and biotrade relate to value chains that are based on the use of biodiversity and involve the trade of biodiversity-based materials and products, including as commodities. There is, however, a difference between BioTrade with a capital “B” and “T” and biotrade without capitals.

BioTrade with a capital “B” and “T” refers to activities involving the collection, production, transformation and commercialization of goods and services derived from biodiversity according to the environmental, social and economic sustainability criteria defined in the under the criteria of environmental, social and economic sustainability  in accordance with the BioTrade Principles and Criteria established by UNCTAD and its partner organizations.

The term biotrade with a small “t” is much broader, covering trade of biodiversity-based products in sectors like food and agriculture, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, ecotourism, fashion accessories and handicrafts, and wildlife trade, with the difference that the actors involved do not necessarily apply any sustainability criteria to their activities.

These biodiversity-based value chains can  be complex and involve many different actors: indigenous peoples, farmers or communities who provide raw materials; collectors and intermediaries who gather and transport these materials; researchers who conduct R&D; processors, transformers, distributors and traders – on a local, national, regional or international level.

Some actors are strongly committed to the UNCTAD’s BioTrade Principles and Criteria and the UEBT Standard. They might even use tools such as certification to demonstrate their commitment to environmental, social and economic sustainability.

Because the scope of BioTrade is very wide, different international agreements may be relevant, including the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Nagoya Protocol. As more and more countries become a Party to the Nagoya Protocol and implement national ABS legislation, there is an increasingly strong link between ABS and BioTrade.

In general, the ABS Initiative works with the term BioTrade in order to emphasize the sustainability aspect of ABS-related value chains. However, for the ABioSA project in South(ern) Africa, we are using “biotrade” because this is the term commonly used in South Africa.

What is the link between BioTrade and ABS?

BioTrade activities include various phases of the value chain – from harvesting, collecting and storing raw materials, processing and transportation, research and product development, to manufacturing or commercialization of the final product.

Value chains that involve research and development (“utilization”) of genetic resources and are based on associated traditional knowledge may trigger benefit-sharing obligations arising from the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Nagoya Protocol at a national level. Depending on the scope of relevant national legislation, there may also be benefit-sharing obligations resulting from activities in the biotrade value chain beyond the scope of the Nagoya Protocol on ABS.