The implementation of the Nagoya ABS Protocol for the research sector: experience and challenges


Over the years, researchers in public institutions and universities have accessed genetic materials from a variety of sources, freely exchanged them with fellow researchers and institutions and shared their research results with foreign and local collaborators. The 2010 Nagoya Protocol regulating access to genetic resources is set to change this scenario. This treaty requires country parties to put in place enhanced ABS measures regulating access to their genetic resources and to provide for the sharing of benefits arising from their utilization. These measures include minimum access standards, mandatory prior informed consent of indigenous and local communities, compliance with the domestic laws or requirements of the provider country and monitoring the utilization of genetic resources. This is aimed at commercial research. Non-commercial public research which contributes to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity is encouraged, particularly in developing countries, through simplified measures. There are undoubtedly practical challenges in operationalizing this provision without impeding research in the sector most potentially affected by ABS measures. This article presents the results of a survey of the practices of such researchers in one developing country, namely Malaysia. It examines the potential implications for the national implementation of the Protocol. Given country specificities, this study highlights and shows the importance of increasing knowledge about existing practices for an efficient design and implementation by developing countries of a complex legislation such as the Nagoya ABS Protocol.

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  1. 1.

    Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity, adopted in Nagoya in October 2010, entered into force on 12 October 2014.

  2. 2.

    Sectors are broadly defined—such as agriculture; within this, the subsectors would include: plant, forestry, animal, marine and micro-organisms.

  3. 3.

    The tangible indicators differentiating commercial from non-commercial research were identified by non-commercial researchers at a workshop at Bonn in 2009: UNEP/CBD/WG-ABS/7/INF/6.

  4. 4.

    The Africa Group, for example, proposed that there be no distinction between commercial and non-commercial research (Nijar and Gan 2012). The European Union and Australia, a member of JUSCANZ (comprising Japan, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), proposed simplified access rules for non-commercial research, highlighting the danger of a restrictive ABS regime impeding research: ibid, at pp. 195, 196, 210. The Like-Minded Megadiverse Countries took a middle position. This group, comprising developing countries, agreed to simplified procedures for pure scientific research provided proper protective measures were included to safeguard situations where there was a change of use. It also advocated creating conditions to promote non-commercial biodiversity-related research which contributes to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, especially in developing countries: ibid. at 224.

  5. 5.

    See discussion of the options, Dedeurwaerdere et al. (2013).

  6. 6.

    One such arrangement is with the beverage multinational, Pepsico: communication with the Director, SBC, 2015.

  7. 7.

    See EPU Regulations for the Conduct of Research in Malaysia (1999). General Circular No. 3, Sect. 7.6.

  8. 8.

    This was 29 % out of a sample of 169 researchers actively involved in exchanging material.

  9. 9.

    The Indian Biological Diversity Act, 2002 seeks to combine the two considerations. Its article 2(e) states: ‘commercial utilization’ means end uses of biological resources for commercial utilization such as drugs, industrial enzymes, food flavours, fragrance, cosmetics, emulsifiers, oleoresins, colours, extracts and genes used for improving crops and livestock through genetic intervention, but does not include conventional breeding or traditional practices in use in any agriculture, horticulture, poultry, dairy farming, animal husbandry or bee keeping. For the indicators approach see footnote 1.



Access and Benefit Sharing


Association of Southeast Asian Nations


Biological resources


Convention on biological diversity


Conference of the Parties


Forest Research Institute Malaysia


Genetic resources


Intellectual Property Rights


Malaysian Agricultural Research Institution


Material Transfer Agreement


Nagoya Protocol on access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their utilization


Prior informed consent


Sarawak Biodiversity Centre


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Correspondence to Gurdial Singh Nijar.

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Nijar, G.S., Louafi, S. & Welch, E.W. The implementation of the Nagoya ABS Protocol for the research sector: experience and challenges. Int Environ Agreements 17, 607–621 (2017).

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  • Nagoya Protocol
  • Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS)
  • Convention on biological diversity (CBD)
  • Genetic resources
  • Malaysia
  • Researchers