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6-Genetech §§: BIOSAFETY - US government on Montreal talks



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TITLE:  US says biosafety pact should not supersede WTO
SOURCE: Reuters
DATE:   January 15, 2000

----------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch/ ------------------


US says biosafety pact should not supersede WTO

WASHINGTON, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Efforts to craft an international
Biosafety Protocol later this month in Montreal should focus on
protecting biological diversity without unduly restricting trade
in genetically modified crops, U.S. and industry officials said.
The protocol should also make clear that it does not change the
rights and obligations of countries under other international
agreements, such as the World Trade Organization, the officials
said. WTO rules prevent countries from blocking food imports
unless there is a compelling scientific reason. The United States
has argued that prevents restrictions on genetically modified
crops because U.S. regulators have determined them to be safe.
Negotiations under the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity
officially open on Monday, January 24. However, informal meetings
begin next Thursday and are expected to continue up to the start
of the conference.


UNITED STATES HAS MUCH AT STAKE

The outcome of the negotiations has enormous consequence for the
United States, which is the world's largest producer of
genetically modified crops. The new varieties account for more
than half of U.S. soybeans and one-third of U.S. corn crops.
European consumer opposition to genetically modified crops sets
the stage for a major conflict in Montreal. Developing countries
also have concerns about liability if imported genetically
modified organisms (GMOs) damage their biodiversity.

Because the U.S. Senate has not ratified the Convention on
Biological Diversity, the United States does not officially have
a seat at biosafety talks. It has worked through the Miami Group
of countries, which also includes Canada, Argentina, Australia,
Uruguay and Chile. Countries first agreed to develop a Biosafety
Protocol in late 1995. They have met three times previously in
Montreal and planned to bring their work to a close a year ago in
Cartagena, Colombia. That effort fell apart over many of the same
issues that are expected to divide the upcoming meeting.


ENVIRONMENTALISTS OPPOSE "SAVINGS CLAUSE"

U.S. industry officials complain negotiators have gone into areas
that countries originally agreed not to enter. "The Europeans, in
particular, want to try to use the protocol to override the WTO
or at least set the protocol on par with the WTO. That's
something we agreed at the beginning we wouldn't do," said Val
Giddings, vice president of the Biotechnology Industry
Organization. But environmentalists say the United States is
being unreasonable with its demand for a "savings clause" that
would subordinate the Biosafety Protocol to WTO rules.

"Countries should have the right to say no or put conditions on
the imports of GMOs," said Sarah Newport, of Friends of the
Earth. That includes bulk commodities for food, feed and
processing. "We don't think there should be any loopholes or
exemptions," she said. A key issue in Montreal will be the
establishment of Advance Informed Agreement (AIA) procedures for
trade in "living genetically modified organisms" (LMOs). The
purpose of the AIAs would be to inform countries in advance of
shipments of LMOs which may pose a potential threat to their
plant and animal life.

The United States and the Miami Group argue a distinction should
be made between commodities destined for feed and food uses and
LMOs which would be released into environment, such as planting
seeds and live fish. Going into Montreal, U.S. officials see
considerable difficulties reaching a deal. Disagreements remain
on at least half of the proposed text of the protocol, one U.S.
aide said.


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