The Australian ABS system and examples
Having discussed a number of biodiscovery access and benefit-sharing (ABS) agreements or ABS-type examples from countries that have no ABS system (e.g. Morocco, Madagascar, and Samoa) or that have limited systems that are only partially implemented (e.g. Thailand, Vanuatu – see Chapter 8), it is worth also examining a country that has an existing ABS regulatory framework. The concept of ABS under the CBD and Nagoya Protocol rely on contracts agreed through mutually agreed terms (MAT), and so it has been possible for several existing ABS-type agreements to have been established under contract laws of those specific countries in the absence of a national system. In contrast, it is interesting to see what the experience of ABS has been in countries where regulatory systems are in place. For this particular discussion it is worth examining the ‘Nationally consistent approach for access to and utilisation of Australia’s native genetic and biochemical resources’ and some of the laws and agreements that have been made, and permits issued. As a mega-diverse country, Australia has a significant number of unique and endemic species that have evolved over time on the island continent. Given the provision of ‘sovereign rights’ over biological diversity under the CBD, this means that Australia could stand to gain significantly from ABS arrangements if they can be clearly established. For example, approximately 83 per cent of mammals in Australia are endemic to the country (Laird et al., 2008). In addition, Australia’s unique marine and coastal environments contain the world’s largest areas and highest diversity of tropical and temperate seagrass species and of mangrove species, some of the largest areas of coral reefs, exceptional levels of biodiversity for a wide range of marine invertebrates, and it is estimated that around 80 per cent of the southern marine species are endemic (DFAT, 2008; Laird et al., 2008).