GENET archive


6-Regulation: Cartagena Protocol negotiations - views on the documentation decision

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  Cereal suppliers cautious over new GM trade rules
SOURCE: Food Navigator, France, by Anthony Fletcher
DATE:   21 Mar 2006

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Cereal suppliers cautious over new GM trade rules

21/03/2006  -  The adoption of detailed documentation requirements for
genetically modified (GM) food in the international trade of agricultural
commodities has been met with caution by grain and cereal importers.

Coceral, the body representing the European cereals, rice, feedstuffs,
oilseeds, olive oil, oils and fats and agrosupply trade, is concerned
that the additional documentation requirements will prove a burden to
importers who already have to meet stringent EU regulations.

"This goes a step further than current EU legislation," Chantal Fauth,
secretary general of Coceral told FoodNavigator.

"We would have preferred not to have these measures, as EU legislation is
already very stringent, and the move could bring some difficulties.

"We haven't had time to examine in full what the implications will be as
the decision was made on Saturday. We don't know when the measures will
come into force, or whether EU regulations will need to be adapted."

The outcome of the third meeting of the 132 parties to the Cartagena
Protocol on Biosafety (MOP3) was, however, described as 'landmark' by the
European Commission (EC).

The EC, which negotiated on behalf of the EU and played an important role
in brokering the final compromise, claimed that the requirements are 
"clear, meaningful and practical for both exporters and importers of
agricultural products, while being consistent with EU law".

"It provides for legal certainty for the international trade in
agricultural commodities,"said environment commissioner Stavros Dimas.

"As such, it is a landmark decision that bolsters the role of the
Cartagena Protocol. I would like to express my deep appreciation to the
Brazilian government that has been instrumental to achieve this outcome."

Trade implications of documentation requirements were the main focus of
major players such as Mexico and Brazil.

In addition to the documentation requirements, MOP3 took decisions on a
range of other issues designed to enhance the effective implementation of
the Protocol, including biosafety capacity-building activities in
developing countries, risk assessment for GMs and the operation of the
web-based information exchange portal established by the Protocol, the so
called Biosafety Clearing House.

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is the only international treaty
governing the cross-border transport of genetically modified organisms.
The Protocol is a supplementary agreement to the 1992 Convention on
Biological Biodiversity.

The rules set out in the Protocol are intended to promote the
conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and protect the
public from the potentially harmful effects of GMOs. The Protocol entered
into force on 11 September 2003 and currently has 132 Parties, including
all Member States and the European Community.

The Cartagena Protocol is incorporated into EU legislation through a wide
range of laws. The cornerstone of this legal framework is Directive 2001/
18/EC on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically
modified organisms.

It is supplemented by a Regulation on the transboundary movements of GMs,
which was adopted in 2003.

                                 PART II
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TITLE:  Food Safety: Rule on Labeling Transgenics Watered Down
SOURCE: Inter Press Service / Global Information Network, by Mario Osava*
DATE:   18 Mar 2006

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Food Safety: Rule on Labeling Transgenics Watered Down

CURITIBA, Brazil, Mar. 18, 2006 (IPS/GIN) -- International negotiations
on biosafety ended here Friday with criticism about late modifications to
an agreement on transporting and identifying transgenic products.

Delegates for the 132 parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
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 allowed the wording "may contain LMOs" in cases in
which the presence of transgenics has not been documented and identified
from origin.

"We made important concessions to accommodate legitimate concerns,"
Brazilian Environment Minister Marina Silva said in her closing speech
before the Third Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol (MOP3). 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 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 5 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.

No studies 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 biotechnology.

"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. A window remains open to future
questioning of the protocol, he said, and to complaints before the World
Trade Organization (WTO) against countries that refuse to import
transgenic products without the information required by the protocol and
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 recognized 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 favor 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.

European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
news & information

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