Professionals promoting biodiversity-friendly goods and services in the region discuss the challenges they've faced promoting BioTrade during the past two decades.
About one dozen professionals working on issues related to biodiversity in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Peru took part in an UNCTAD webinar on 14 August to discuss their experiences as part of an ongoing revision of the principles and criteria that guide BioTrade – the production and sale of goods and services sustainably derived from plants and animals.
Global BioTrade sales, which reached $4.8 billion in 2016, have increased with consumers’ growing appetite for environmentally-friendly products and services.
More than 400 supply chains in 46 countries now use the BioTrade principles and criteria, published by UNCTAD in 2007 to ensure that the trade of goods and services derived from flora and fauna lead to improved living conditions for local communities and better conservation of natural resources.
“When we started the BioTrade initiative in 1996, we were focused mainly on developing biodiversity-friendly sectors and products. But we realized that for the initiative to reach its full potential, we needed common written principles and criteria to guide the producers, small businesses, marketers, exporters and NGOs working in the sector,” says Lorena Jaramillo, who currently steers UNCTAD’s BioTrade programme.
“And now we’re at a point where it’s time to update the guidelines, taking into account the different lessons learned over the past decades and align them to new policies and developments such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” Ms. Jaramillo said, adding that the revision process, which began in May 2018, is expected to end in February 2019.
The webinar allowed BioTrade professionals to share their experiences working with the seven principles in sectors as varied as food products, fashion, handicrafts, personal care and hygiene, ornamental flora and fauna, and sustainable tourism.
A fair share of the pie
More than two-thirds said that the easiest principles to implement were those on conservation and biodiversity (Principle 1) and the sustainable use of biodiversity (Principle 2). Caridad Maldonado from Peru’s export and tourism promotion commission (PROMPERÚ) said that businesses are finding it difficult to navigate the principles but are working with the country’s environment ministry to better understand them.
Conversely, more than half agreed that the principle on the fair and equitable distribution of benefits posed the most challenges. They said these included reaching an agreement with local communities on what would be a fair share of the pie, and getting information on the benefits accrued further along the value chain as the natural resources are turned into a final product.
Adriana Rivera, a BioTrade expert from Brazil, said: “There is a need to enhance the knowledge on how to deal with Access and Benefit-Sharing and traditional knowledge.”
She was referring to the Nagoya Protocol, an international agreement that entered into force in 2014 to ensure the benefits from using genetic resources are shared fairly among value chain actors, including local – often indigenous – communities.
Participants agreed that a major hurdle to overcome was the lack of knowledge of the Nagoya Protocol’s technical aspects and requirements of those involved in BioTrade – often small producers, micro businesses, local non-governmental organizations.
Ms. Jaramillo said that UNCTAD was working with BioTrade partners such as the Convention on Biological Biodiversity Secretariat, the Union for Ethical BioTrade and the Access and Benefit Sharing Capacity Development Initiative to build the knowledge and skills of those working in the sector in more than 46 countries around the globe.
Another challenge, participants said, was the continued need to collect data on how the principles and criteria contribute to protecting biodiversity and enhancing livelihoods, mainly in rural areas.
Vanessa Ingar from Peru’s environment ministry said: “Sometimes it’s difficult to collect data because the information is confidential. Companies are reluctant to share information about their suppliers, prices, etcetera.” She added that the informal nature of biodiversity-based business also makes it difficult to collect exact figures.
As part of the next steps in the revision process, UNCTAD will compile a report based on the webinar and other consultations with BioTrade partners. The report will be discussed during an UNCTAD event at the 14th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 14) in November 2018 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
Once finalized, the updated BioTrade Principles and Criteria will be uploaded onto the International Trade Centre’s Standards Map, enabling governments and companies to benchmark them with other sustainability frameworks and carry out self-assessments.
The revision process is part of the 4-year Global BioTrade Programme: linking trade, biodiversity and sustainable development, launched in April 2018 with financial support from the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO.