United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

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Home » Resources » Traditional Knowledge & the UN » United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

In February 2000, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)’s member States decided to address the protection of traditional knowledge as part of the organization’s work in the area of trade and environment. The Plan of Action adopted by UNCTAD’s tenth Conference stated that “UNCTAD should also, in full cooperation with other relevant organizations, in particular and where appropriate with WIPO and WHO, promote analysis and consensus building with a view to identifying issues that could yield potential benefits to developing countries”. It specifies that this work should focus on, “taking into account the objectives and provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the TRIPS Agreement, studying ways to protect traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of local and indigenous communities and enhance cooperation on research and development on technologies associated with the sustainable use of biological resources”.

Also in 2000, UNCTAD convened an Expert Meeting on Systems and National Experiences for the Protection of Traditional Knowledge, Innovations and Practices which considered three key issues:

  • What is the role of TK, particularly in the health care and agriculture sectors?
  • Why and how should TK be protected?
  • How can TK be best harnessed for development and trade?

The conclusions and recommendations of the Expert Meeting were considered by the UNCTAD Trade and Development Board, Commission on Trade in Goods and Services, and Commodities. The Commission recommended at the international level:

  • Promoting training and capacity-building to effectively implement protection regimes for TK in developing countries, in particular in the least developed countries;
  • Promoting fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from TK in favour of local and traditional communities;
  • Encouraging the WTO to continue the discussions on the protection of TK;
  • Exchanging information on national systems to protect TK and exploring minimum standards for internationally recognized sui generis system for TK protection.

In June 2004 at the UNCTAD XI Conference in São Paulo, UNCTAD's mandate on traditional knowledge was reaffirmed. TK is also relevant to other UNCTAD XI mandates, including development benchmarks and trade sector reviews, and the Conference's three cross-cutting issues: trade and creative industries, trade and gender, and trade and poverty.

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