Comment: One nation's interpretation

 作者:皋怕兼     |      日期:2019-03-03 01:14:01
Last week, President Clinton announced that he would sign the Biodiversity Convention, thereby allowing the US to regain its place as the pacesetter in the global environmental community (see This Week). Since last June, when the US bucked the trend and refused to join Britain, France and 158 other nations that signed the treaty after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, it has been treated like an outcast. One nation, Venezuela, has already begun legal action against American pharmaceuticals companies to restrict their access to native plants and animals that could provide a source for new drugs, on the grounds that the companies will not be obliged to pay for their use. But while Clinton’s decision is welcome because it will help reduce international tensions, it poses new questions about how the biodiversity treaty is to be interpreted. The original aim of the treaty was to ensure that Third World nations would be rewarded if the plants and animals found within their borders were used in the development of new drugs. The argument was that the richer nations should not be allowed simply to plunder these ‘genetic resources’. Several large companies objected on the grounds that the treaty would force them to give away licenses for their drugs. George Bush accepted their viewpoint at Rio. Now, the new man in the White House has agreed to sign the treaty – but he has not entirely abandoned his predecessor’s line of thought. Clinton’s aides have drafted an ‘interpretive statement’ which makes clear that the signing of the treaty will not force drugs companies to provide anything specific to developing countries in return for use of their genetic resources. Developing nations will now argue that the treaty actually mandates both US government scientists and private companies to share profits, research findings, and licences for drugs that are created using their genetic resources. The ambiguous language of the treaty will make their position difficult, however, and the US will undoubtedly search for allies in Europe to back its own, looser interpretation. A speedy resolution of these different views is not possible. The US may want to persuade countries either to amend the treaty to bring it in line with its own interpretation, or to add a protocol that specifies how the treaty would enforce the sharing of benefits. But if the US goes down this road, the result will only be a long and contentious process of negotiation. The best solution now is for all parties to the treaty to dodge the issue diplomatically and each file their own interpretive statements. That means Third World countries will not automatically be granted a licence on a drug developed from their plants as they originally hoped, nor can they expect a particular percentage of the profits from its sales. But with the US’s signature on the treaty, industry and government will be under strong moral pressure to obey any rules set by Third World governments – a far better situation than if the US had continued to refuse to sign the treaty. If the rules are disputed, then clauses in the treaty can help resolve them on a case-by-case basis. That mechanism probably will not help solve the type of problem that emerged last week when Queensland declared ‘sovereignty’ over its plants and animals in an attempt to ensure that profits from genetic resources went to the local government (see This Week). It is questionable whether an individual state within a nation can unilaterally declare sovereignty over its own genetic resources. But with the US back at the table, it should be possible to discuss the Queensland case and the issue of at what level – nation, state,