ABS in value chains

Biotrade, BioTrade and ABS

BioTrade activities include various phases of the value chain – from harvesting, collecting and storing raw materials, processing and transportation, research and product development, to manufacturing or commercialization of the final product.

Value chains that involve research and development (“utilization”) of genetic resources and are based on associated traditional knowledge may trigger benefit-sharing obligations arising from the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol at a national level. Depending on the scope of relevant national legislation, there may also be benefit-sharing obligations resulting from activities in the BioTrade value chain beyond the scope of the Nagoya Protocol on ABS.


BioTrade and biotrade relate to value chains that are based on the use of biodiversity and involve the trade of biodiversity-based materials and products, including as commodities. There is, however, a difference between BioTrade with a capital “B” and “T” and biotrade without capitals.

BioTrade with a capital “B” and “T” refers to activities involving the collection, production, transformation and commercialization of goods and services derived from biodiversity according to the environmental, social and economic sustainability criteria defined in accordance with the BioTrade Principles and Criteria established by UNCTAD and its partner organizations.

The term biotrade with a small “t” is much broader, covering trade of biodiversity-based products in sectors like food and agriculture, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, ecotourism, fashion accessories and handicrafts, and wildlife trade, with the difference that the actors involved do not necessarily apply any sustainability criteria to their activities.

These biodiversity-based value chains can be complex and involve many different actors: indigenous peoples, farmers or communities who provide raw materials; collectors and intermediaries who gather and transport these materials; researchers who conduct R&D; processors, transformers, distributors and traders – on a local, national, regional or international level.

Some actors are strongly committed to the UNCTAD’s BioTrade Principles and Criteria and the UEBT Standard. They might even use tools such as certification to demonstrate their commitment to environmental, social and economic sustainability.

Because the scope of BioTrade is very wide, different international agreements may be relevant, including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its Nagoya Protocol. As more and more countries become a Party to the Nagoya Protocol and implement national ABS legislations, there is an increasingly strong link between ABS and BioTrade.

In general, the ABS Initiative works with the term BioTrade in order to emphasize the sustainability aspect of ABS-related value chains. However, for the ABioSA project in South(ern) Africa, we are using “biotrade” because this is the term commonly used in South Africa.

UNCTAD, the United Nation Conference on Trade and Development, is a permanent intergovernmental body that deals with issues relating to economic and sustainable development, with a focus on trade, finance, investment and technology. In 1996, UNCTAD launched the BioTrade Initiative to support of the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Since 2003, the BioTrade Initiative has also hosted the BioTrade Facilitation Programme (BTFP), which complements UNCTAD BioTrade Initiative’s activities.

To guide its work, UNCTAD created a conceptual framework, the so-called BioTrade Principles and Criteria, in collaboration with National BioTrade Programmes, relevant businesses and other partners.

The BioTrade Principles are:

  1. Conservation of biodiversity
  2. Sustainable use of biodiversity
  3. Equitable sharing of benefits derived from the use of biodiversity
  4. Socio-economic sustainability
  5. Compliance with national and international legislation and agreements 
  6. Respect for the rights of actors involved in BioTrade activities
  7. Clarity about land tenure, use, and access to natural resources and knowledge

The first three BioTrade Principles address the three objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity. However, equitable benefit-sharing (principle 3) in BioTrade goes beyond the Nagoya Protocol and the utilization of genetic resources to include the use of biodiversity more generally.
To implement the BioTrade principles, UNCTAD adopted three different approaches, including:

  • the “value chain approach”, which involves actors from all parts of the value chain working together to achieve agreed goals.
  • the “adaptive management approach”, which allows for corrective measures to be adopted on the basis of ongoing monitoring of impacts.
  • the “ecosystem approach”, which takes a holistic approach to ecological and social issues and the interactions and processes that make up production systems.

BioTrade and access and benefit-sharing: From Concept to Practice. A Handbook for Policymakers and Regulators.

UEBT (Union for Ethical BioTrade) is a non-profit association that promotes sourcing with respect. This means it supports and verifies companies’ commitments to innovation and sourcing of biodiversity-based natural ingredients in South(ern) Africa, we are using “biotrade” because this is the local term.
Created with the support of UNCTAD, UEBT brings together companies, communities, civil society and other stakeholders to develop and implement good practices that make sure that natural ingredients are sourced in a respectful way. These practices are collectively known as the UEBT standard.

The UEBT Standard, which builds on the BioTrade Principles and Criteria, includes the following principles:

  • Biodiversity conservation
  • Sustainable use of biodiversity
  • Fair and equitable benefit-sharing
  • Local economic development
  • Compliance with national and international laws
  • Respect for human, labour, and indigenous rights

Fair and equitable benefit-sharing under the UEBT Standard extends to all activities along the value chain, with specific provisions on compliance with legal and ethical requirements on access and benefit-sharing (ABS) in cases of biodiversity-based research and development.
The UEBT mission is to support and validate best practices of companies which are committed to sourcing with respect. Its activities include:

  • Setting ethical sourcing practices for companies using natural ingredients
  • Verifying companies’ commitments to these practices
  • Certifying sourcing systems and specific ingredients
  • Providing advice and training for capacity development
  • Raising awareness about the challenges and opportunities associated with ethical sourcing
  • Collaborating with members, other companies and civil society partners
  • Collecting data and carrying out studies to determine impact

One of the highlights among UEBT’s activities is the “Beauty of Sourcing with Respect” conference which is organized annually in Paris, France, by UEBT and its partners. This conference brings together companies from the beauty, food, beverage and pharmaceutical sectors to discuss key trends and issues associated with ethical sourcing of natural ingredients. The ABS Initiative is one of the UEBT’s main partners in organizing this conference. The ABS Initiative ensures that policy-makers, researchers and companies from biodiversity-rich countries can participate, supports visits to companies conducting biodiversity-based R&D and facilitates ABS-related sessions.