Article 1 – Objectives

This article sets out the overall objectives and direction of the Treaty and outlines the framework within which implementing actions have to be taken. It sets the stage for the subsequent articles which establish more specific obligations. Defining the objectives of the Treaty in precise terms also allows for ongoing evaluation of the extent to which the objectives are being attained by providing a point of reference or benchmark for monitoring implementation.

By providing an overall sense of direction, this article helps to:

For all these reasons, Article 1 is important for all those involved with the Treaty, including in particular the Treaty's Governing Body (see Article 19), and Contracting Parties' national policy-makers charged with ensuring the implementation of the Treaty within their jurisdictions.

The Article also has important legal consequences for states signatory to the Treaty that have not yet ratified it, and for states that have ratified it but for whom the Treaty has not yet entered into force. Under Article 18 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, once a state has signed a treaty or expressed its consent to be bound by a treaty, it is bound to refrain from acts that would defeat the object and purpose of the treaty, pending the entry into force for it of the Treaty.

This first paragraph of this article states the objectives of the Treaty:

These objectives establish, first, the fundamental balance of the Treaty between conservation and sustainable use and second, the balance between both of these and benefit sharing. Third, they emphasize the ultimate, essentially agricultural, scope and aim of the Treaty. In this connection it is to be noted that the subject matter of the Treaty is PGRFA as defined in Article 2: plant genetic material of actual or potential value for food and agriculture. The Treaty provides for its conservation, use and benefit sharing for the purpose of achieving sustainable agriculture and food security.

The paragraph makes the explicit statement that the objectives of the Treaty are to be attained “in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity.” It was the original request of both Agenda 21, adopted at UNCED in 1992, and the FAO Conference in 1993 that the adaptation of the International Undertaking should be in harmony with the CBD. The Treaty provides a more detailed regime applicable to PGRFA within the overall regime applicable to biodiversity in general. For the PGRFA included in the Multilateral System, the Treaty provides for mutually agreed terms of access and benefit sharing that have been pre-agreed by the Parties on a multilateral basis.

Biodiversity is defined very broadly in the CBD as “the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.” The CBD therefore encompasses all the variability among the building blocks of life (i.e., genetic diversity), different life forms (species diversity) and the interrelationships of life (ecosystem diversity). In other words, the CBD is the legally binding umbrella for all levels and forms of diversity. The Treaty, in contrast, focuses on one specific area of biological diversity, namely, the diversity of plants used for one particular purpose, namely food and agriculture. It is nevertheless apparent that the objectives of the CBD and the Treaty are complementary, and as such, need to operate in harmony.

Unlike the International Undertaking, which specifically referred to the concept of ‘availability’ in its objectives, the Treaty does not mention access as one of its objectives. However the notion of availability is implicit in the notion of sustainable use.

Having defined the objectives in the first paragraph, the second paragraph proceeds to state one important aspect of the means by which the objectives are to be attained. The negotiators of the Treaty recognized that PGRFA are an important component of biodiversity in general, as well as an essential basis for agriculture and food security. Some negotiators, and at one time the Conference of the Parties to the CBD,53 had thought that the Treaty might be adopted as a protocol to the CBD, which would naturally emphasize the environmental dimension of the Treaty. However, the agricultural dimension of the new Treaty and the importance of PGRFA for world food security and the need for specialized agricultural expertise in the implementation of the Treaty warranted its adoption as a separate agreement within the constitutional framework of FAO. The second paragraph recognizes this twofold dimension of the Treaty and requires that close links be established both with the FAO, representing the agricultural interest and expertise, and the CBD, representing the interests and expertise of general biodiversity and the environment.

53See Conference of the Parties to the CBD, Decision III/11, at para. 18.

54While some activities took place in the 1950s, the 1961 Technical Meeting on Plant Exploration and Introduction was the first initiative on a wide multilateral basis. For a history of FAO's involvement in plant genetic resources, see Robin Pistorius, “Scientists, plants and politics: A History of the Plant Genetic Resources Movement” (Rome: International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, 1997).

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