GENET archive


6-Genetech §§: BIOSAFETY - Canadain press on biosafety talks

-------------------------- GENET-news ---------------------------

TITLE:  Some differences narrowed in biosafety talks
SOURCE: Reuters/Montreal Gazette, edited by Agnet
DATE:   January 27, 2000

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Some differences narrowed in biosafety talks

MONTREAL -- Negotiators working on an international agreement to
regulate trade in genetically modified organisms have, according
to these stories, narrowed some differences, but much work
remains to be done to finish by Friday. Colombian Environmental
Minister Juan Mayr Maldonado, in charge of the Biosafety Protocol
talks, was cited as instructing negotiators to work through the
night on remaining issues, adding, "You have 10 hours to make
your consultations. I hope that the text that we receive ... is
as advanced as possible."

Maldonado was also cited as saying he would present his own
proposals if negotiators cannot agree on a compromise. The
stories note that the assembly includes some 50 environmental
ministers, many of them dined together on Wednesday while
protesters braved the frigid weather outside their restaurant to
call for a halt to genetically modified crops.

While there has been some progress, the stories add that the
relationship of the proposed protocol to the World Trade
Organization (WTO) and other international agreements, remains
problemsome, with both the Miami Group of agricultural exporting
nations and the European Union saying they needed more time to
study a proposed compromise. The stories note that the Miami
Group, which includes the United States, Canada, Argentina,
Australia, Chile and Uruguay, has been pushing for a "savings
clause" to make clear the Biosafety Protocol would not have
precedence over the rights and obligations of countries under
other international pacts, such as the WTO.

The EU has opposed that provision, known as Article 31. But it
has supported language in Article 22 of the biosafety pact that
would prevent countries from establishing different risk
assessment rules for domestically-produced and imported
genetically modified organisms. The proposed compromise offered
by Cameroon Ambassador Philemon Yang, chairman of a key
negotiating group, would delete both Article 31 and 22 and
replace them with a three-point preamble.

That language would:
- recognize trade and environment policy agreements should be
  mutually supportive with a view to achieving sustainable
- emphasize nothing in the protocol shall be interpreted as
  implying a change in the rights and obligations of a party
  under existing international pacts;
- and explain there is no intent to create a hierarchy between
  the protocol and other international agreements.

EU officials were cited as expressing concerns about the second
point, which they said needed much further discussion, with one
quoted as saying, "We are not entirely happy with the second
preamble language, to put it mildly." A Canadian aide, speaking
for the Miami Group, was cited as describing the proposed
preamble as a "quantum leap" from previous language and doubted
10 hours would be enough time to discuss it.

In the other working groups, negotiators agreed on language that
would exclude pharmaceuticals from the scope of the agreement and
clarified the rights of countries to conduct risk assessments on
imports of genetically modified organisms for "contained use,"
such as in research. The negotiators also agreed the protocol
would apply to genetically modified organisms "that may have an
adverse effect on the conservation and sustainable use of
biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human

Other language being discussed would require genetically modified
organisms to be handled, packaged and transported under
conditions of safety. It would also require genetically modified
crops intended for food, feed and processing to be "clearly
identified." It was not specified how that would be done. Still
unclear is whether there could be any advance notice requirement
for shipments of genetically modified crops.

The story also noted that negotiators at United Nations trade
talks on genetically modified food say they'll work past
tomorrow's deadline if that's what it takes to get a deal. It
wouldn't be the first time the negotiators stayed late in hopes
of reaching a deal. Last February, they stayed for three days
past their deadline at a round of talks in Cartagena, Colombia,
before admitting failure.

They met again in Vienna in September, but again went home
without a deal. The ministers, including those for the United
States, most European countries and several developing nations,
attended a dinner hosted by Juan Mayr, the Colombian environment
minister who is chairing the talks. Anderson arrived at the
dinner at the upscale Saint James' Club to chants of ``Shame on
Canada'' by about 40 protesters upset with Canada's resistance to
letting countries block imports of genetically modified foods.

Francois Pythoud, a Swiss official chairing one of the closed
door sessions, said consumers and industry will demand access to
food free of genetic modification. That will force suppliers to
segregate their genetically modified crops, he said.

Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson was cited as saying
he believes Canadians can benefit from genetically modified foods
and that there needs to be a delicate balance in the ongoing
debate. The Victoria M-P says bio-tech food has the potential of
reducing the use of pesticides and herbicides. He says
genetically modified food also has the potential to help resist
drought or frost conditions, and should not be dismissed out of
hand. The federal minister believes companies will eventually
label their modified food products because the consumer will
demand it.

Richard Ballhorn, co-chairman of the Canadian delegation,
cautioned against concluding that the protocol will provide
protection against a trade challenge. Countries that are members
of the World Trade Organization could still run into trouble, he

"In trade negotiations it's a bargain," Ballhorn said. "You have
said, `I want access to your market, I'll give you access to my
market,' and there was a deal. Then you could potentially have
trade problems because you would have violated agreements you
made in the World Trade Organization."

The risks of such a challenge are highlighted by the current
battle over the European Union ban on hormone-treated beef. The
United States has successfully appealed that ban to the trade
body and the fight remains unresolved. Although hormone-treated
beef is not genetically modified, many of the concerns it has
sparked are similar to those surrounding genetically modified


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