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6-Regulation: Africans absent from key biosafety talks

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TITLE:  Africans absent from key biosafety talks
SOURCE: SciDevNet, UK, by Rod Harbinson
DATE:   16 Mar 2006

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Africans absent from key biosafety talks

 [CURITIBA] Many African countries are absent from this week's
international Biosafety Protocol meeting in Brazil because they cannot
afford to send their delegates to it, with major implications for the
meeting's outcome for all developing countries.

"There just weren't enough [financial] pledges in" from developed donor
countries, said a delegate from Namibia who wished to remain anonymous.
"There were more [pledges] on Sunday but... it was too late."

"I have not seen my fellow delegates from Burkina Faso, Democratic
Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Swaziland or Morocco," he added.

The meeting, which began on Monday, is the third of countries that are
parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, a global agreement that
seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by
genetically modified (GM) organisms.

The gathering will be followed by a larger and equally significant
meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) from 20 to 31

But developed countries have failed to stump up the cash in time to
ensure full participation by developing countries, although they are
expected to do so under article 28 of the Biosafety Protocol.

Ensuring a full house is considered necessary under the Protocol for the
consensus decision-making process to receive adequate credence.

However, eminent Ethiopian environmental scientist and leader of the
African group, Tewolde Egziabher, said: "Quite a few of the African group
haven't turned up."

In an urgent letter to donors and developed countries on 3 March, Ahmed
Djoghlaf, head of the CBD Secretariat, expressed "concerns about the lack
of adequate financial resources for the participation of all developing
countries" to CBD meetings.

At the time just over half the expected money had come in, leaving a
US$350,000 shortfall.

A number of participants warned that slow disbursement of funds from
donor countries could influence the proceedings in Curitiba.

"Some may arrive next week as there was more money pledged for
biodiversity -- which developed countries have an interest in," said one
delegate. "By then the important decisions on GM labelling will have been

The Liability and Redress Working Group is a case in point with delegates
from Venezuela, Cameroon and Ethiopia highlighting poor attendance,
leading to a stalled timetable towards progress on this tricky topic.

Speaking at the plenary session on Tuesday (14 March), they complained
about the lack of funding under article 28 -- a point noted by Malaysia's
Fatima Raya Nasron, who presided over the session.

Who is liable for harmful GM contamination, should it arise, and who
should pick up the bill for potentially costly compensation are issues
that remain contentious at negotiations on the Protocol.

The funding issue has also led participants to speculate about wider
implications of the costs involved for full implementation of all the
provisions of the protocol. Building the capacities of developing
countries for labelling, packaging, testing, policing and a host of other
issues will need to be paid for.

Governments promoting GM have fought hard to avoid responsibility for
these extra costs. They argue instead that if importers are concerned
about GM material entering their country they should be prepared to pay
for that information.

With the GM industry also refusing to pick up the tab, some delegates
said it appears likely that the cost will have to be borne by developing
country taxpayers.

Another controversial topic that could figure in the CBD meeting is the
current de-facto moratorium on what is commonly known as 'terminator
technology'. This GM technique is designed to make seeds infertile after
their first harvest to prevent sharing and re-use by farmers.

As many farmers in developing countries depend on seed sharing, it could
potentially have a major long-term impact on their livelihoods. There are
also safety implications should the terminator genes spread into the
natural environment and render other plants infertile.

This article has been reproduced from the Panos London website

European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
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