Negotiations on Biosafety Protocol Derailed
Volker Lehmann
Keywords:  Biosafety/Foodsafety; Genetic engineering; Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
Correct citation: Lehmann, V. (1999), "Negotiations on Biosafety Protocol Derailed." Biotechnology and Development Monitor, No. 38, p. 10.

An international biosafety protocol is being negotiated under the auspices of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to regulate the safe transfer, handle, and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) (see also Monitor No. 31).
Officials from 148 governments attended the Sixth Meeting of the Open-ended Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety on 14 to 19 February 1999 which was followed by the Extraordinary meeting of the Conference of the Parties (ExCOP) on 22-23 February 1999 in Cartagena, Colombia.
The Working Group concluded its work but was unable to present a consensus text for adoption by the ExCOP. Whilst most of the articles of the draft protocol have already been decided as acceptable to all parties, disagreements could not be settled on main issues of the protocol such as trade issues, treatment of LMOs sold in bulk as commodities, such as genetically modified maize and soybean, and the discrepancy between domestic vis-à-vis international regulation.
Biosafety on the internet
Supranational organizations 

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD):

United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) Biosafety Information Network and Advisory Service (BINAS):

International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR):

International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB):

National organizations

US Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS):

Biotechnology Information Center (BIC) of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA):

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN):

Belgian Biosafety Server:

The Dutch Genetically Modified Organisms Bureau:

UK Advisory Committee on Releases into the Environment (ACRE):

List compiled June 1999

During the negotiations there emerged three main coalitions which formed the negotiating groups: first, the ‘Miami Group’ comprising of Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, the United States and Uruguay; second, the ‘Like Minded Group’ comprising of mainly the developing countries of the Group 77 (exclusive of those that were members of the Miami Group), China and the Central and Eastern European countries; third, the ‘Compromise Group’ comprising of Japan, Mexico, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Switzerland and the European Union (EU). In the final analysis, the Miami Group could not accept a compromise on the draft Protocol which had been proposed by the EU and agreed on by all the other states.
Amongst the most contentious issues was article 5, which outlines the advance-informed agreement (AIA) procedure. This procedure is at the core of the protocol because it requires the exporter of LMOs to inform the country of import prior to the first intentional transboundary movements of these LMOs. Many developing countries are of the opinion that all LMOs should be subject to the AIA procedures as any LMO, irrespective of intended use, could be accidentally released during transfer and handling. However, the current draft protocol creates an exemption by providing that the intentional introduction of LMOs into the environment does not include LMOs "intended for direct use as food or feed, or for processing." The Miami group argued that therefore all commodities containing LMOs should be excluded from the AIA procedures of the protocol. Instead, it was proposed to allow countries to perform risk assessment and approval for these commodities under their domestic law.
Another reason for disagreement among governments was article 31 of the protocol, covering trade protective provisions. In this article it is stated that "the provisions of this protocol shall not affect the rights and obligations of any party to this protocol deriving from any existing international agreement to which it is also a party", unless this "would cause serious damage or threat to biological diversity." The Miami Group has proposed to delete this last phrase of the article. The EU has proposed to delete the entire article and place it in the preamble. Many representatives from developing countries also argued for its deletion because it mirrors CBD article 22. The Miami Group had concerns about the potential conflict of a biosafety protocol with the treaties of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on free trade. According to Rafe Pomerance, the head US negotiator, this is a crucial issue since the USA was not willing to accept that this protocol will undermine the WTO trading regime.
To continue on the formulation of a biosafety protocol all participants agreed that as a first step informal consultations would be held in September 1999. The ExCOP will be resumed at a later date prior to the next ordinary meeting of the COP, which will be held in May 2000.
Volker Lehmann

Editor, Biotechnology and Development Monitor

Miller, H.I. (1999), "Cynicism and politics dominate UN biotechnology deliberations." Nature Biotechnology, Vol. 17, No. 6, p. 515.



Personal communications with T. Yongo (Secretariat of the CBD).

Contributions to the Biotechnology and Development Monitor are not covered by any copyright. Exerpts may be translated or reproduced without prior permission (with exception of parts reproduced from third sources), with acknowledgement of source.


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