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Country Visit:

In-Country Consultation Cook Islands

18-22 November 2013

During a country visit in November 2013, members of the ABS Initiative held consultations with the main stakeholder groups for ABS in the Cook Islands. In several meetings and interviews, their views on ABS were exchanged and options for the country's Nagoya Protocol ratification and implementation process were discussed.

Outcomes:

Among the traditional leaders (House of Ariki and Koutu Nui), knowledge on ABS and the Nagoya Protocol is still limited. During the meeting, different types of monetary and non-monetary benefits were discussed. In terms of transboundary GRs and TK they stated a need for regional collaboration in Polynesia. The traditional leaders were very determined in their claim to be fully involved in the development of the ABS law.

Te Ipukarea Society (TIS), an environmental NGO, works with the traditional leaders quite often but is not involved in any ABS activities at the moment. The management of marine areas is an issue; the traditional leaders claim responsibility for marine protected areas. So far, there has been little research in these areas and hardly any marine bioprospecting. TIS suggested to be involved in ABS as institution transferring benefits to local communities.

In a meeting with government stakeholders, representatives of the National Environment Service (NES), the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), the Seabed Minerals Commission and the Natural Heritage Trust were informed about ABS. At the moment, the Prime Minister’s Office (OPM) is in charge of the research permitting processes which are handled by a research committee while the government is working on an ABS draft bill. It was agreed to minimise the PIC and MAT content in the law and elaborate the details in the regulations and forms of the permitting process. The ABS Capacity Development Initiative agreed to further provide assistance and advice. 

The Ministry of Cultural Development has developed a Bill on Traditional Knowledge (TK) which is expected to enter into force soon. They have established a TK register to document traditional knowledge which can also be used to link researchers to TK holders. However, according to the traditions, healers are not allowed to trade their knowledge, and they also only pass it on within their families; this may be a constraint to ABS. 

The Ministry of Agriculture is working closely with SGP in the frame of the ITPGRFA. The Cook Islands are sharing taro and banana varieties through the Multilateral System and breed new varieties with support from Australia. The MoA approves of the ABS draft bill and would like to be involved in the permitting processes when it comes to agriculturally relevant species and varieties. They also pointed out that the Ministries of Culture and Health might want to be involved, too.

According to the Development Coordination Division at the Ministry of Finance, an ABS law will probably be approved by the cabinet relatively easily. They, too, recommended keeping the procedures simple as the NES’ capacities are limited. They further recommended involving NGOs and the traditional leaders.

Due to a decline in sales, CIMTECH are currently not buying from the local growers, but sales are expected to pick up again. The company’s main interest lies in the bone healing properties of Hibiscus tiliaceus on which research is done in collaboration with a US laboratory.