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Rousseff sanctions law on access to biodiversity

President Dilma Rousseff sanctioned a new regulatory framework on biodiversity, governing access to genetic resources and traditional knowledge related to them. The new legislation replaces a temporary presidential decree (MP) enacted in 2001 which raised criticism from the industrial sector and the scientific community.

The new law, signed Wednesday (May 20), creates rules for access to biodiversity resources by researchers and the industry and regulates the traditional peoples’ right to share in the profits arising from the exploitation of their knowledge of nature. A dedicated fund will be created to pay these royalties.

“We have successfully drafted a law that draws on our ability to develop while also recognizing people as part of this development and drive innovation from scientific and technological research. We are ensuring a favorable, friendly environment that entitles people who have this traditional knowledge to share in the profits, gives them royalties, while also removing boundaries to research and enabling businesses to tap into this knowledge without conflict, hurdles, or disputes,” said President Dilma Rousseff in a speech at the signing ceremony.

According to Rousseff, the new law will empower Brazil to advance in the “rush” for biotechnological innovation. The president went on to announce the creation of a profit-sharing fund which will ensure payments to traditional communities even when that particular piece of knowledge is not limited to certain groups (e.g. tribes). Under the new provisions, companies are required to pay the fund 1% of the net proceeds from the sale of the finished product or reproductive material obtained from genetic resources, according to the Ministry of Environment.

“This process involves nearly 300 peoples and traditional communities, which is testament to Brazil’s ability to develop while also making people part of it. They will be recognized and will play an active role in decision-making. As long as [the product resulting from their knowledge] is being sold, creating value, they will get paid,” Rousseff said.

For scientists, the main change the new law has introduced is the authorization for access to biodiversity resources for research purposes. Under the old rule, research not authorized by the Managing Board for Genetic Resources was considered to be “biopiracy”, which outlawed a large number of researchers. Now, scientists will be able to register with the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation to conduct their research.

“I assure researchers will no longer be harassed or bullied with lawsuits over their plants – this is detrimental to science and research,” said the Minister of Science and Technology, Aldo Rebelo.

Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said the new law will improve oversight by “making clear what procedures require monitoring.” She went on to point out that the enactment of the new regulatory framework is an important step leading to the ratification of the Nagoya Protocol, an implementation tool of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). “This should further talks toward enforcing the CBD in Brazil – we have completed the legal framework to implement the Convention. I hope that now that we’ve created this new foundation and level of understanding we can maintain dialogue with the National Congress toward ratifying the Nagoya Protocol.”

The president signed the law with line-item vetoes that were not disclosed during the signing ceremony at the presidential palace. These details will only be released later, according to Teixeira. “The line-item vetoes were occasional and don’t change the spirit of the new law,” the minister explained.

Translated by Mayra Borges

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