GENET archive


6-Regulation: Biosafety Protocol alive, but restricted

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TITLE:  Biosafety Protocol Alive, but Restricted
SOURCE: IPS News, by Mario Osava *
DATE:   18 Mar 2006

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Biosafety Protocol Alive, but Restricted

CURITIBA, Brazil, Mar 18 (IPS) - The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety "is
alive," celebrated the delegates to the Third Meeting of the Parties to
the Protocol (MOP3), although there were complaints about and criticism
of modifications to the final agreement reached Friday night.

"We made important concessions to accommodate legitimate concerns,"
Brazilian Environment Minister Marina Silva said in her closing speech.
However, she lamented that the Brazilian proposal which served as the
basis for the negotiations and was widely accepted failed to achieve the
necessary consensus and underwent a few changes.

The proposal referred to the main point under negotiation: article 18 of
the Protocol, which refers to the handling, transport, packaging and
identification of transgenic products.

The delegates of the 132 parties to the Protocol who met Monday through
Friday in the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba approved a requirement
for clear labeling of cross-border shipments containing living modified
organisms (LMOs) in products for direct use as food or feed, or for
processing. Under the new agreement, products that have been clearly
identified and separated as transgenics will have to carry the label
"contains LMOs".

But the delegates admitted the wording "may contain LMOs" in cases in
which the presence of transgenics has not been documented and identified
from origin.

The Brazilian proposal recommended a four-year transitional period to
allow countries to gradually adopt mandatory labeling. But the
negotiators expanded that period to six years, and inserted an element of

In four years, MOP5 will evaluate how well the labeling clause has been
implemented, to help orient the final decision to be reached in 2012, at
the MOP6.

In addition, as a result of insistence by Mexico, which delayed the
conclusion of MOP3 by four hours, the clause will now state that the
rules on labeling will not apply to transboundary transport between
parties to the Protocol and non-parties.

Approval of this exception, which would appear to be obvious, since no
country can impose the rules of an international treaty on a country that
has not adhered to it, made it possible for a consensus to finally be reached.

For Mexico, the exception represents "the possibility of maintaining a
series of trade agreements with other countries, and our commitments to
the United States and Canada," Marco Antonio Meraz, the head of the
Mexican delegation, told IPS.

The aim of the compromise that Mexico successfully pressed for is to not
hinder the country's free trade agreements with other countries, he explained.

Since 1994, Canada, Mexico and the United States have been joined by the
North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Under a treaty signed in October 2004 by the members of NAFTA, shipments
containing up to five percent GM products can be identified as "non-
genetically modified", and shipments with "unintentional" contamination
do not require identification or labeling.

The United States, the world's biggest producer of transgenic products,
is not a signatory to the Cartagena Protocol.

As a "megadiverse" country (in other words, a country with great
biological diversity), Mexico has always supported the Cartagena
Protocol, and is not opposed to the expression "contains GMOs", as it has
been accused of, but merely advocates more detailed information on
transgenic products, said Meraz.

"Within the Protocol, there are other instruments that can help us
document what has been planted and where," like the Biosafety Clearing-
House (BCH) information exchange mechanism, which is capable of compiling
so much data that it renders the debate on "contains" or "may contain"
LMOs "irrelevant," argued Meraz.

Mexico's demand contributed to the "weak agreement" reached by MOP3,
which is based on new regulations that "fall short of fully protecting
vulnerable developing countries from unidentified and potentially illegal
GMO imports," Greenpeace International said in a statement released Saturday.

There are no studies that conclusively demonstrate that transgenic
products are harmless to the environment and human health. The Protocol,
in effect since September 2003, is aimed at protecting biodiversity from
the risks that may be posed by living organisms modified by means of

"Responsibility for this compromise decision falls squarely at the feet
of a minority group of vested interests led by transnational agro-biotech
firms, commodity traders, the U.S., Canada and Argentina (not members of
the Protocol), who used countries like Mexico and Paraguay as stalking
horses to hijack proceedings from the very start, turning crucial
international negotiations on the issues of biodiversity, biosafety and
human health into hard-nosed trade deals," said Greenpeace.

In the corridors of the conference venue, people remarked that the
"tequila effect" - a reference to Mexico's national drink -, fomented by
the United States, obstructed the meeting, making arduous negotiations
and a compromise solution necessary.

Braulio Dias, director of conservation of biodiversity in Brazil's
Environment Ministry, told IPS that progress was made despite the
reservation insisted on by Mexico, which did, however, "leave open a
window" to future questioning of the Protocol, or to complaints before
the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against countries that refuse to
import transgenic products without the information required by the
Protocol, which could be accused of trade discrimination.

"Disputes will not be avoided, but they will take place at a higher level
from now on," said Dias. Because the big importers of soy beans, like
China and the European Union, have adopted the Protocol, that could
counteract the pressure of major exporters of transgenic products - such
as the United States, Canada and Argentina - that are not signatories to
the treaty, he said.

The fact that only Brazil, among the world's leading agricultural
exporters, has adhered to the Cartagena Protocol is a negative factor for
the country's agribusiness sector. The additional costs of identifying
and separating transgenic products will drive up prices, putting it at a
disadvantage when it comes to competing with other exporter countries.

A compromise accord is better than stagnation of the Protocol, said Lim
Li Ching, an expert on biosafety with the Third World Network. But, she
noted, Article 24 already established the possibility of bilateral
agreements between parties and non-parties on transboundary
transportation, but in a manner that was "compatible with the objectives
of the present Protocol."

However, the alternative was a failure to approve rules for transboundary
shipments of transgenics, which are key to "giving life" to the Protocol,
by intervening in trade and creating conditions for moving ahead with
national labeling of GM products, said delegates.

It was universally recognised that the Brazilian proposal was decisive in
reaching a final agreement at the five-day conference. Brazil left behind
the role of "villain", which it had played at MOP2 last year in Montreal,
where it defended the "may contain GMOs" wording and ended up isolated
with New Zealand because they blocked a consensus.

But its new stance in favour of the "contains GMOs" label and a four-year
adaptation period was not defined until Monday, the first day of the
conference, and was not formally presented at MOP3 until Tuesday, thus
holding up the negotiations.

This time it was Mexico and Paraguay that blocked a consensus until the
11th hour, without any clarification as to why they did not raise their
objections earlier.

The negotiations were difficult, "with a heavy emotional component,"
Antonio Patriota, the head of the Brazilian negotiators, commented to
IPS. By setting forth its proposal, Brazil stopped being the "bad guy,"
but it ran into resistance by "several Latin American countries," he added.

The initial objections, which were based on a lack of technical and
financial conditions for implementing mandatory LMO labeling and
identification within a space of four years, were overcome by resolutions
that ordered the secretariat of the Protocol to put a technical
assistance plan into effect and to broaden financing of the biosafety
system to poor countries, he noted.

Mexico then brought up the problem of its imports of transgenic corn from
the United States, and its need to fulfill NAFTA accords. It was seeking
"legal guarantees" against possible accusations of violating the
Protocol, a demand that was satisfied by the exception on trade between
parties and non-parties, said Patriota, who considered the additional
phrase irrelevant.

* With additional reporting by Roberto Villar Belmonte.

                                 PART II
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Mexico and Paraguay Block Agreement on Biosafety
SOURCE: IPS News, by Roberto Villar Belmonte
DATE:   17 Mar 2006

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Mexico and Paraguay Block Agreement on Biosafety

CURITIBA, Brazil, Mar 17 (IPS) - Mexico and Paraguay waited until Friday,
the last day of the Third Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena
Protocol on Biosafety (MOP3), to present new proposals to modify the text
that has been under negotiation since Monday, thus prolonging the five-
day gathering.

During the MOP3, which ran through Friday in the southern Brazilian city
of Curitiba, Mexico put up the strongest resistance, with its delegates
stating that the country does not want mandatory labeling for cross-
border shipments containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The negotiators had discussed a proposal set forth by Brazil late
Thursday night, and renewed the process of informal contacts at around
10:00 AM local time.

Shortly after noon, Norwegian delegate Birthe Ivars, chairwoman of the
working group in charge of the talks on labeling, the most controversial
issue in the negotiations, presented the proposal that the working group
had reached agreement on.

But Mexican delegate Marco Antonio Meraz Ríos unexpectedly suggested
placing brackets around the clause making it compulsory for signatories
of the Cartagena Protocol to clearly label shipments containing GMOs,
thus leaving the issue open to future negotiations.

"Is this a serious way to deal with matters, reinserting brackets that
had already been removed?" protested Brazilian Ambassador Luiz Alberto
Figueiredo Machado, co-chair of a contact group involved in the
negotiations on labeling.

"We are dismayed. We thought Mexico was negotiating in good faith this
week, but it decided not to express its position until the very last
day," complained the Ethiopian delegate, to applause from the majority of
the participating diplomats.

There are no conclusive studies showing that transgenic products are
harmless to the environment and human health. The Protocol, in effect
since September 2003, is aimed at protecting biodiversity from the risks
that may be posed by living organisms modified by means of biotechnology.

Venezuela, the European Union (EU) and Japan expressed themselves in
favour of the proposal that would give countries six years to adjust to
the rule on mandatory labeling of GMOs in international transport, two
years longer than Brazil had originally suggested.

Peru initially opposed the wording "contains GMOs" during the
negotiations, and the Peruvian delegate was also applauded when he
finally announced his government's support for the agreed-on text.

The clause that was still being discussed Friday night states that
national labeling of transgenic products will be assessed at the MOP5, to
be held in four years, since from now on, the conference will take place
every two years.

The goal is to consider a decision during the sixth meeting, to ensure
that the documentation that accompanies GMOs destined for direct use as
food for human beings or animals, or for processing, clearly indicates
that the shipment contains transgenics and includes the necessary
detailed information.

The chairwoman of the working group called on the Mexican delegates to
re-evaluate their stance and passed them the floor. The ensuing silence
further raised expectations. This prompted Ivars to urge, "Mexico, please
press the button," which elicited widespread laughter, amplified by the
faulty sound system.

Once he finally got the microphone to work properly, the Mexican
ambassador said that there should be no surprise regarding his country's
proposal, since Mexico has consistently questioned the obligation to
identify cross-border shipments.

The Paraguayan delegation then voiced its support for Mexico and called
for the resumption of negotiations.

An hour and a half later, once a new version of the document - free of
square brackets û had been presented by Ivars, Mexico once again
conditioned its approval on changes to another part of the text, which
calls on governments to adopt measures to guarantee the documentation
accompanying products containing GMOs.

The EU protested the changes, describing them as a step backwards. For
his part, Rubens Nodari from the Brazilian Environment Ministry remarked,
"In practice, the Mexican proposals are aimed at eliminating the
obligatory nature of labeling."

As of late Friday evening, the negotiations resumed behind closed doors
had not resulted in an agreement. The executive secretary of the
Convention on Biological Diversity, Algerian Ahmed Djoghlaf, attributed
the difficulties in reaching a consensus to the wide range of interests
at stake, but said he was confident that an agreement would ultimately be

Greenpeace, however, blamed the lack of agreement on pressures exerted by
agribusiness corporations and the countries that export the largest
quantities of transgenics, like the United States and Argentina, which
are not parties to the Cartagena Protocol.

Given the fact that an "absolute consensus" is needed to adopt a
decision, it is easy to co-opt one or a few countries and prevent the
will of the large majority from prevailing, argued Sergio Leitao,
Greenpeace director of public policy.

His fear is that the meeting will fail to produce any advances, or will
end with a timid text that does not establish a secure system for
identifying transgenics. "Only a telephone call from Brazilian President
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to Mexican President Vicente Fox could save
COP-MOP 3 from total failure," he remarked.

According to Djoghlaf, Brazil's proposal contributed significantly to the
attempt to overcome the obstacles faced by the Cartagena Protocol, and he
praised Lula's decision to endorse the adoption of a clearly worded
"contains GMOs" labeling system, with a four-year deadline for implementation.

The 22 decisions adopted this week will make it possible to begin
implementing the Protocol, said Djoghlaf, who stressed that over the next
two weeks, in Curitiba itself, the world's largest meeting ever on
biological diversity will take place.

A total of 2,669 participants have registered for the Eighth Meeting of
the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity
(COP8), including 96 government ministers. COP7 was attended by 2,300
delegates and 16 ministers.

So far, 2,086 official meetings have been held on the Convention, and the
192 decisions adopted are gathered in a volume that is 1,039 pages long.
Now it is time for implementation, stressed Djoghlaf.

European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
news & information

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