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ABS in the International Treaty on plant genetic resources Access and Benefit Sharing

The International Treaty, in force since 2004, regulates ABS for the crop sector in a multilateral system. It is excluded from the scope of the Nagoya Protocol as a special agreement.

The ABS System in the International Treaty

Seeds (Source: BillionPhotos -

The Contracting Parties to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture have adopted a Multilateral System of Access and Benefit Sharing (MLS). The MLS allows for facilitated access to plant genetic resources for research, breeding and training for food and agriculture. Recipients of material from the MLS sign a standardized Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA) that specifies the conditions for use and benefit sharing.
The multilateral system includes 64 major food crops and forages (see Annex I of the International Treaty). It includes plant material that is under the management and control of the Contracting Parties and in the public domain (e.g. in national or regional gene banks). Furthermore, it includes genetic resources located in the global ex situ collections of CGIAR research centres and in other international institutions that have signed agreements under article 15 of the International Treaty. The Treaty also calls on Contracting Parties to encourage natural and legal persons holding plant genetic resources (including private owners) to make include material in the MLS.


The International Treaty is internationally recognized as a special agreement on ABS. Therefore, the Nagoya Protocol does not apply to plant genetic resources in the Multilateral System of the Treaty. In other words, recipients of material from the MLS do not have to negotiate Mutually Agreed Terms on access, use and benefit-sharing with the country of origin, as would be the case under the Nagoya Protocol. By signing the Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA), they undertake to comply with the conditions set out therein.

Plant genetic resources not listed in Annex I of the International Treaty can also be made available with SMTA, including an explanatory footnote, under the terms of the MLS of the Treaty. In this case, the use of the SMTA fulfils the due diligence requirement of EU ABS Regulation 511/2014.

Benefit sharing fund

Payments resulting from the Plant Treaty and its SMTA are made available to a benefit-sharing fund, which is administered in trust by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The income is dedicated to fund projects for the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources in developing countries.

The Multilateral System of the International Treaty

Graphic representation of the multilateral system in the International Seed Treaty (Source: BLE)

The standardized conditions of the SMTA for use and benefit sharing

  • The recipient shall use the material solely for the purpose of research, breeding and training for food and agriculture.
  • The recipient shall not claim intellectual property rights to the genetic resources in the form received.
  • Benefit Sharing obligations are due if the product is not freely available for further research and breeding. This is the case, for example, if the breeder protects the new variety by patent. Plant protection under the rules of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) does not trigger payment obligations, because the variety is freely available for further breeding (so called breeding privilege). In such cases, the recipient is invited to make a voluntary financial contribution.
  • All non-confidential information (for example characterisation and evaluation data) resulting from research and development with the material, and pursuant to Article 6.9 of the SMTA, shall be provided via the Global Information System of the International Treaty (Art. 17) (non-monetary benefit sharing).
  • If the recipient supplies material to third parties "in the form received" (Art. 6.4) or "in development" (Art. 6.5), he is obliged to  conclude a new SMTA with the third party and notify the Secretariat of the International Treaty accordingly.



Dr. Imke Thormann
+49 (0) 228  6845 - 3438
Email: Imke.Thormann(at)ble(dot)de

Marliese von den Driesch
+49 (0) 228  6845 - 3241 
Email: Marliese.vondenDriesch(at)ble(dot)de

Federal Office for Agriculture
and Food
Unit 331
Deichmanns Aue 29
D-53179 Bonn