OVER WORDS AND PHRASES:

My Foray into International Negotiations

By Atty. Rosette Ferrer

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash. For representation purposes only.

International policy work is not for impatient souls. It takes decades for a subversive and revolutionary idea to take hold, become unchallenged canon, and affect the lives of its intended beneficiaries. It requires an overhauling of policy narratives, of long-held rhetoric or assumptions.

Take for instance farmers’ rights (FR). In the 1960s, the concept of FR was barely a whisper in the rumblings against the abuses of control over plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) by private interests as well as public institutions. Today, it is enshrined in certain pockets of international law, mainly in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA).

 

However, hurdles in its full realization still persist. For one, the very nature of international policy-making, which is invariably at a glacial pace, hinders its development. Two, the promotion of FR requires consensus from states with varying circumstances and agenda. Third, FR is affected by the regime complex, an overlapping rules of governance over the same subject matter, which in this case is PGRFA. Fourth, national-level implementation is a whole other arena.

The long history of FR negotiations means numerous twists and turns of positions and political alliances. It is in this context that I entered the slow yet white-knuckle world of negotiations in international policy.

As SEARICE policy officer, my baptism by fire at negotiations was at the 8th session of the Working Group on Article 8j (Traditional Knowledge, Innovations, and Practices) in Montreal, Canada, in October 2013. Atty. Joya Doctor-Santos (SEARICE consultant) and I participated as representatives of the Philippine government. Being a representative of the government in international negotiations has advantages over being that of a CSO in terms of hurdling the requirement of support by a Party to the treaty. To widen the base of support for positions put forward by SEARICE, it is also important to lobby with delegates of other Party-States.

Through the initiative of SEARICE, the Philippines drew attention to the work of the International Labour Organization (ILO) on International Standard Classification of Occupations, which includes traditional occupations. The Philippines proposed for the development of mutually reinforcing mechanisms in the context of Article 8(j) for implementing farmers’ rights in collaboration with ITPGR. Welcoming the draft’s explicit inclusion of repatriation of traditional knowledge from gene banks, the Philippines called for guidelines for entities storing traditional knowledge, and expressed concern about the absence of reference to International Land Coalition (ILC) rights to their inventions.

At the 12th Conference of Parties (COP) of the CBD held in South Korea in October 2014, the positions that were carried at Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical, and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) which advises the COP in adopting decisions, were adopted.

SEARICE's participation in the CBD is mainly in the sessions of the SBSTTA. The 17th session of the SBSTTA was held the week following the 8th session of the WG8j. In relation to Target 13 of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, the Philippines stressed the importance of smallholder farmers, pastoralists, indigenous peoples, and local communities in safeguarding genetic diversity. Target 13 focuses on the development and implementation of strategies to minimize genetic erosion and safeguard genetic diversity.

Part of the resulting recommendations is the identification of social science and traditional knowledge as key scientific and technical needs in the implementation of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011‒2020. In the recommendation for the implementation of Target 13, it was recognized that “[a]dditional efforts should be made in a number of areas, including, among others: (a) Maintaining the draft’s explicit inclusion of repatriation of traditional knowledge from gene banks, the Philippines called for guidelines for entities storing traditional knowledge, and expressed concern about the absence of reference to International Land Coalition (ILC) rights to their inventions.

At the 12th Conference of Parties (COP) of the CBD held in South Korea in October 2014, the positions that were carried at Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical, and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) which advises the COP in adopting decisions, were adopted.

SEARICE's participation in the CBD is mainly in the sessions of the SBSTTA. The 17th session of the SBSTTA was held the week following the 8th session of the WG8j. In relation to Target 13 of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, the Philippines stressed the importance of smallholder farmers, pastoralists, indigenous peoples, and local communities in safeguarding genetic diversity. Target 13 focuses on the development and implementation of strategies to minimize genetic erosion and safeguard genetic diversity.

Part of the resulting recommendations is the identification of social science and traditional knowledge as key scientific and technical needs in the implementation of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011‒2020. In the recommendation for the implementation of Target 13, it was recognized that “[a]dditional efforts should be made in a number of areas, including, among others: (a) and safeguarding genetic diversity in situ including, where appropriate, through biocultural approaches that promote conservation and restoration while valuing cultural and traditional knowledge; (b) Arriving at optimal balance between in situ and ex situ methods of conservation and their complementarity; (c) Enhance cooperation among Parties that use management mechanisms with biocultural approaches; (d) Further development, in some countries, of approaches to reduce market or commercial pressures that simplify crop and livestock systems.

 

My first foray in the very controversial and, therefore contentious, issue of synthetic biology was at the 18th session of the SBSTTA. The dynamics of working closely with other CSOs such as ETC Group and Friends of the Earth (FOE) and party delegates, such as Bolivia and the Africa group, worked well in obtaining important and updated information and widening the base of support.

The controversy rested on whether the CBD should establish international rules to govern the use of synthetic biology, much like it did through the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety concerning living modified organisms. Countries, many of which were developed and thus stand to gain through their industry exploiting and employing synthetic biology techniques fought hard to keep that from happening again, while developing countries which stand to suffer from the negative consequences of synthetic biotechnology are on the other end of the negotiating table. SBSTTA-18 left many issues on this topic unresolved.

The battle over international governance of synthetic biology was continued at the 12th COP of the CBD held on October 2014 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Near the end, the last issue wherein consensus seemed out of reach was over the words “and/or” in the phrase “in accordance with national, regional and/or international frameworks.” A consensus was arrived at when the air was cleared over what Parties on opposite sides of the table really want—that these do not necessarily conflict with each other.

To address international policymaking on climate change, I also participated as a representative of the Philippine government at the 18th COP to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Warsaw, Poland in November 2013. I was part of the Adaptation team which was headed by the Policy and Planning Office of the Department of Agriculture.

The Philippines is closely aligned with G77 and China, through which the Philippine positions are put forward. As a strategy in the context of Haiyan, the group decided to let the Philippines speak to bolster the G77 and China position. At the SBSTA workshop on adaptation issues in agriculture, the G77 and China emphasized the important role of small farmers, underscored that the focus should be on adaptation and that a loss-and-damage mechanism is crucial, and bewailed the fact that the important role of small farmers was not mentioned in the presentations.

After heated and extended negotiations, the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage to address loss and damage associated with impacts of climate change, was established. Even though there remains much to be desired in terms of its relation to the Cancun Adaptation Framework which aims to “enhance action on adaptation, including through international cooperation and coherent consideration of matters relating to adaptation under the Convention” and its role in relation to financial resources, the establishment of the Warsaw International Mechanism is important in SEARICE’s work because there are and will be physical and socio-economic limits to small farmers’ capacity to adapt in relation to PGRFA.

Despite the long days and nights at the negotiating table fighting over words and phrases, I find fulfillment in international policy work. It is very satisfying to know that I am able to contribute to the furthering of farmers' rights at a wide scale. However, I am aware that the fight does not end there. The final battleground is and always will be at the national and community level for farmers to take control of and exercise their right over PGRFA.

[Published in BREEDING CHANGE: SEARICE 2014-2015 Report]

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