Status Quo ABS and Biotrade

Vanuatu has a functioning Biodiversity Advisory Committee (BAC) issuing Nagoya Protocol-compliant permits, operating under their Environmental Management and Conservation Act (EPC Act), which contains bioprospecting provisions requiring revision to ensure compliance with the Nagoya Protocol.

The Traditional Knowledge Act of 2019 avoids duplication of regulatory requirements by regulating only the utilization of traditional knowledge (associated with genetic resources).

The Customary Land Management Act of 2002, amended several times before 2014, recognizes the local community as custom owner of land and natural resources, meaning that a local community makes decisions according to its custom at its traditional meeting place (nakamal). Local custom varies from island to island and on larger islands from community to community. Such local decision-making authority needs to be reflected in the EPA Act when being amended for Nagoya Protocol compliance.

The integration of local PIC procedure in the national permitting system under the BAC and the question how to ensure fair and equitable benefit-sharing among local communities for shared resources, especially in the context of biotrade value chains are two key areas requiring further clarification, e.g. through an environmental trust fund for receiving benefits, as well as development of model mutually agreed terms.

In the inception phase some ABS relevant value chains have been identified in Vanuatu. In March 2018, some preliminary analysis was undertaken on nangai (Canarium indicum) and tamanu (Calophyllum inophyllum), which are being collected and processed for export by local companies. These are sold to US companies, which have enquired about the national ABS process and agreement-making. In early 2019, a supply bottleneck was identified in Malekula by an intermediary company that has signed exclusive agreements with foreign partners. This is inhibiting the possibility to pursue ABS agreements. Vanuatu has requested the ABS Initiative to pursue some of the companies involved in purchasing tamanu and nangai from Malekula in 2020. Other foreign companies are also seeking additional supplies of both species and have begun contacting suppliers in PNG and Solomon Islands for C. indicum and in Samoa for C. inophyllum, where it is known as fetau).

Kava (Piper methysticum) supply chains have also been analysed to identify if buyers are conducting unauthorized R&D. Some companies have been identified, such as Gaia herbs, which buy kava from Vanuatu and conduct research for the development of patented products. In this particular case, a patent is held on a method for delivering an herbal supplement containing turmeric and kava (both medicinal herbs that have been traditionally used). The ABS Initiative is seeking to identify if these companies will establish ABS compliant value chains in accordance with the laws in Vanuatu and other Pacific countries.