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FoE PRESS RELEASE - FAILURE OF BIOSAFETY NEGOTIATIONS



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PRESS RELEASE
Cartagena, 24th February 1999
For immediate distribution


BIOSAFETY NEGOTIATIONS FAIL : TRADE AND AGRO-BUSINESS INTERESTS HIJACKED
THE PROCESS, SAYS FRIENDS OF THE EARTH


The International Biosafety Negotiations, which were supposed to result in
a Biosafety Protocol following the last round which took place on 14 - 24
February 1999 in Cartagena, Colombia, have failed.  After four days of
almost non-stop negotiations, the extraordinary meeting of the Conference
of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity ended without a
Protocol.  Although the vast majority of countries had finally achieved
agreement on a text in the early hours of Wednesday morning, the text was
not adopted due to objections by a small group of agro-exporting countries,
the so-called Miami Group consisting of the United States, Australia,
Canada, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.

"These negotiations, which went on for almost three years, basically failed
because a small number of countries was determined to obstruct the whole
process and not to adopt a Protocol at all" commented Dan Leskien,
representative of Friends of the Earth International.  "Negotiations are
difficult, if not impossible, in such a situation."

The Biosafety Negotiations, which focussed on the development of
international rules for the transboundary movement of genetically modified
organisms (GMOs), originally aimed at the development of international
rules for the protection of the environment and human health.  However, the
last round of the negotiations in Cartagena clearly showed that the trade
and business interests had taken over.  In fact, the negotiations were
overshadowed by forthcoming trade disputes between the United States (US)
and the European Union (EU) over the EU´s regulations concerning the
placing on the market of GMOs and the labelling of products derived from
such organisms.  The US submitted an official complaint against the EU to
the WTO in October last year which is supposed to lead to a dispute
settlement procedure before the WTO quite soon.  As a result, it soon
became apparent that the negotiations in Cartagena were diverted by the
prospect of trade conflicts between the US and the EU, rather than
focussing on the principle of protecting developing countries from the
dangers which GMOs may pose to their people and diversity-rich
environments.

The text of the Protocol which finally met with the approval of all
countries except the Miami Group does not address most transboundary
movements of living modified organisms (LMOs).  In fact, only the
transboundary movements of LMOs destined for the introduction of GMOs into
the environment would have been covered by the so-called AIA (advance
informed agreement) procedure according to which countries have to ensure
that their exporters do not export GMOs to other countries without the
prior informed consent of the importing state.  The Protocol text, which
the EU and most developing countries had agreed on but which was not
adopted by the extraordinary meeting of the Conference of the Parties due
to the objections of the Miami Group, would have excluded LMOs for direct
use as food, feed and for processing.  Furthermore, LMOs destined for
contained use would not have been covered by the Protocol´s AIA
obligations.  "What we finally had on the table was a 'Miami Protocol'
rather than a 'Cartagena Protocol'.  The fact that even this minimalist
text was rejected by the Miami Group clearly shows the lack of commitment
of this group of countries" said Leskien.  "In the end, the countries did
not negotiate the Protocol anymore.   Instead, they negotiated who to blame
for the failure of the negotiations".

Many developing countries complained about the failure of the negotiations
in statements during the final session of the conference, and supported the
proposal to continue with the negotiations as soon as possible.  However,
it is unclear whether the negotiations can continue before May 2000 when
the next Conference of the Parties to the Biodiversity Convention is
scheduled to take place in Nairobi.  Many delegates expressed the opinion
that it might be very difficult to conclude the negotiations on the
adoption of a Protocol given the disagreement on many issues between the
Miami Group and other countries.

In an NGO statement delivered in the final plenary, non-governmental
organisations, including Friends of the Earth, recalled that the harbingers
of biotechnology had vigorously resisted the adoption of a Biosafety
Protocol from the very beginning:  "There is nonetheless a bright side,
apart from the prospect of future negotiations resulting in an effective
Protocol.   It is this:  Both the intensity of the negotiations and the
fierce fight to limit living modified organisms amenable to safety
procedures have heightened the awareness and increased the resolve of many
countries, especially  developing countries, to develop comprehensive
biosafety laws domestically, regionally and even inter-regionally.  We call
on these countries to do so as a matter of first priority and to prohibit
release and importation of LMOs until comprehensive safety laws and
structures are firmly in place.  This will also send the clearest message
that the global community will not always succumb to the might of the few
amongst us.  Ultimately it now falls on the shoulders of civil society to
reclaim its role of reasserting public interest."


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For more information:
Dan Leskien (in Cartagena), T. 57-5-6646.579
Gill Lacroix, T. 32-2-542.0182



Gill Lacroix
Friends of the Earth Europe
Biotechnology Programme
"The US government has put American farming profits before public health in
a vast, uncontrolled global experiment".  (The Observer, 14.02.99)
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