Genetic resources: access and benefit-sharing in Canada

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Canada is home to over 100,000 plant and animal species spread throughout a variety of climates and ecosystems. The genetic variety composing Canada's biodiversity contributes to maintaining the integrity of our environment and provides the "raw material" used in the development of new products and technologies. Canadian and foreign scientists access genetic resources found in Canada in the hope of new discoveries which increase the economic and social well-being of Canadians and which generate new information about Canada's biodiversity.

While Canadian genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge are being accessed for research and commercial purposes, there is currently no official access and benefit-sharing (ABS) system in place in Canada to formally grant access to these resources and knowledge and maximize the benefits derived from their use.

Some laws and regulations at the federal, provincial and territorial levels cover some of the elements of ABS but governments are working towards developing a clear system, which will aid Canadian jurisdictions in managing the access to genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge and ensuring that benefits derived from their use accrue to Canadians.

Who is involved?

Given the cross-cutting nature of ABS, the division of powers between jurisdictions for the management of natural resources, and the relevancy of ABS to a range of sectors, collaboration between different governmental departments and agencies at all levels of governments is essential. This collaboration contributes to ensuring that proper consideration is given to the different aspects of ABS in light of the circumstances occurring in different jurisdictions and sectors.

At the federal level, an interdepartmental committee on ABS has been looking at this issue. At the provincial and territorial levels, representatives from the different Canadian jurisdictions take part in the work of the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Working Group on ABS. Some of them have created working groups within their own government to advance policy discussions on ABS and better define their role and interests in this issue.

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