Access and Benefit Sharing
Genetic resources – commonly understood as almost any biological material containing DNA or RNA, including cells, tissues, and whole organisms of all plants, animals and microorganisms – are important for innovation and the development of new products across a wide range of industries, including the agricultural, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic sectors. Access to these resources is critical for U.S. private and public researchers. As a leader in genetic research and development, the United States has a strong interest in international systems and country approaches that support both appropriate access to and benefit-sharing of genetic resources.
The United States engages bilaterally with countries to encourage them to establish balanced national Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) regimes that facilitate access to genetic resources as well as mutually agreed terms for benefit-sharing, protect the interests of different sectors and users, and minimize administrative and transaction costs. ECW leads on policy development, working together with relevant U.S. agencies, and ensures that U.S. stakeholders are aware of the changing international ABS landscape.
Nature provides the resources on which humans depend for our survival and economic growth. Natural ecosystems provide essential resources such as food, water, fuel, and medicines, as well as basic services that make life possible, such as air and water filtration, crop pollination, and protection from storms and floods. The conservation, use and management of these resources and ecosystems provide the foundation for healthy, resilient communities and economies, which in turn promote stability and prosperity throughout the world.
Conserving and managing shared natural resources requires international cooperation, multilateral, regional and bilateral diplomacy, and information sharing. ECW leads U.S. participation in a range of intergovernmental and international processes to promote conservation and is also responsible for international policy issues related to invasive species, migratory birds, parks and protected areas, pollinators, sustainable tourism, and wildlife conservation.
Forests provide essential services (food, fuel, fiber, clean water, medicines and livelihoods) and the economic foundations that, in turn, promote stability and prosperity throughout the world. The United States imports and exports more than $50 billion in forest products annually, as part of a more than $200 billion global trade. As one of the world’s top five countries in terms of forest cover, the United States is a proven leader in forest management practices, education, and research, development, and innovation. Poor and illegal forest management practices can undermine legitimate forest industry and trade, reduce productivity, increase the risk of impacts from disasters, exacerbate transboundary conflicts, and sustain organized criminal networks and insurgent groups, and threaten security.
The United States advocates for international cooperation on a wide range of forest issues. As policy lead within the Department of State, ECW seeks to expand U.S. expertise and leadership in forest management; address market distortions that can disadvantage U.S. industry and trade; reduce corruption; promote stability in rural communities worldwide; advance forest practices globally that are consonant with those in the United States; and ensure that international partnerships respect the U.S. structure of land management, including the relationship between federal and state entities.
Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
Food security is a cross-cutting conservation issue. Ecosystems and ecosystem services—stable and healthy land, soil, and water resources; pollinators; genetic resources for seed improvement—are the basis for long term agricultural productivity and food security. In order to meet the challenge of feeding a growing population there must be sustainable supplies of water of sufficient quality and quantity, and plant breeders and researchers must be able to develop new crops that that are more resilient or resistant to pests and diseases; are more efficient; and that still reliably produce high-quality yields.
The United States is a global leader in agriculture research, development and innovation. Continued strong engagement and leadership in conservation and management of agricultural inputs is critical for our national and global food security. ECW leads U.S. participation in a range of intergovernmental and international processes to ensure that U.S. farmers, plant and animal breeders and researchers have reliable access to genetic resources (i.e. seeds or other propagating materials), needed to achieve food security and to improve water security and on-farm water use efficiency.
By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will be living under water-stressed conditions including almost two billion people that will not have enough water to meet human, industrial and ecosystem needs. Water scarcity and poor water quality will increase disease, undermine economic growth, limit food production, and become an increasing threat to peace and security in many regions of the world where the United States has strong strategic interests.
ECW leads the development and implementation of U.S. foreign policy on drinking water and sanitation, water resources management, and transboundary water and conflict issues. This includes: coordinating the development of policies and positions across the Department of State and the U.S. government, including implementation of the President’s Global Water Strategy and management of the U.S. government interagency water working group; representing the United States in bilateral, regional and global fora to advance our policy interests and programs; facilitating conversations between countries where water is a source of tension; and developing and managing partnerships and programs that leverage U.S. knowledge, expertise and resources to advance our policy interests on water and sanitation.
- Deputy Assistant Secretary for Environment John Thompson’s Remarks at the Global Water Strategy Public Meeting, November 17
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Wildlife trafficking, the illegal poaching, transit, trade and sale of wildlife, generates more than $10 billion a year for transnational organized criminal networks. This illegal trade has devastating impacts: it threatens security, undermines the rule of law, fuels corruption, restricts economic development, pushes species to the brink of extinction, contributes to the spread of disease and robs local communities of their natural resource base, including the economic benefits they derive from the legal sale of wildlife and hunting revenues. The multifaceted nature and global scale of this problem calls for strategic cooperation at global, regional, national and local levels.
As the United States is one of the world’s major markets for both legal and illegal wildlife and wildlife products, the U.S. government has an important role to play in addressing wildlife trafficking. ECW, as the designated lead for the Department’s role as co-chair of the Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking, coordinates inter-agency efforts to strengthen global enforcement, reduce the demand for illegal wildlife products, and expand international commitment across a range of multilateral, regional and bilateral forums. ECW also coordinates the Department’s work to implement the END Wildlife Trafficking Act, signed into law in October 2016.