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BSWG-6
Sixth Meeting of the Open-ended Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety
Cartagena, Colombia
14 - 19 February 1999

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Briefing

MONDAY UPDATE: The Opening Ceremonies of the Extraordinary Session of the COP were held in the morning and included an address by the President of Colombia. The BSWG Plenary began in the afternoon. The Chair presented his text for a protocol and requested the group to adopt it. He then opened the floor for comments and told delegates their statements would be reflected in the report of the meeting, which will be presented to the COP. Many delegations voiced strong dissatisfaction with the text and noted that it did not reflect consensus.
During the afternoon ExCOP Plenary, President Juan Mayr deferred discussion on the report of the BSWG and called for the formation of a small group to continue deliberations on the protocol. The group includes 10 spokespersons with 2 advisors each, representing various interest groups:
- one delegate from Central and Eastern Europe,
- one delegate from the European Union
- one delegate from Central America
- two delegates from the Miami Group (one Northern and one Southern)
- four delegates from the Like-Minded Group
- one delegate from "a compromise" country (Switzerland)

The issues to be discussed include Articles 4 (Scope) and Article 5 (AIA procedure). The group is expected to meet through the night and a Plenary of the ExCOP is scheduled for 9am.

WEEKEND RECAP: Optimism ran headlong into skepticism and confusion this weekend as the negotiations moved back and forth between intermittent meetings of the Friends of the Chair, Friends of the Minister and a myriad of other informal consultations among interest groups. Many delegates complained about the chaotic schedule of meetings and a lack of clear signals as to the current state of play. One participant characterized the competing discussions as operating in "parallel universes," colliding only while in line for fresh juices and Colombian coffee.
By the evening, rumors abounded that the entire process had broken down and that some major groups were threatening to pull out. Continued deliveries of food and coffee to meeting rooms and the occasional messenger racing between the two negotiating camps provided the only signs that the talks were still underway. Environmental NGOs circulated a paper listing the categories of LMOs currently excluded from the draft protocol. One joked that the current scope was so narrow as to effectively create the Cartagena Protocol on Animal Vaccines.
A number of developing country delegates in particular expressed frustration over the lack of transparency and democracy in the negotiating process over the weekend. While many continued to be kept in the dark over progress or lack thereof, others with "insider connections" said that the light at the end of the tunnel was still dim.

Photos from 22 February

Colombian President Andres Pastrana commented on the international community�s increasing awareness of both the immense technological progress achieved by humankind, and of its potential threats. He emphasized the global interrelationship between the quest for peace, social justice and environmental protection. President Pastrana urged delegates to agree on a biosafety protocol that would promote food security, health and equity.
Juan Mayr, Colombian Environment Minister, was elected to preside over the ExCOP. He called for the support of delegates in his efforts to forge consensus. He is seen here being congratulated by COP-4 President Laszlo Mikl�s (Slovak Republic).
From left to right: Klaus Toepfer (UNEP Executive Director), Colombian President Andres Pastrana, Colombian Environment Minister and ExCOP President Juan Mayr, COP-4 President Laszlo Mikl�s and Hamdallah Zedan, acting Executive Secretary of the CBD Secretariat.
UNEP Executive Director Klaus T�pfer said the protocol could not solve all problems related to biosafety; but it should demonstrate that the international community could use modern biotechnology while taking responsibility for its repercussions.
Hamdallah Zedan, acting Executive Secretary of the CBD Secretariat, noted that, although no protocol text had yet been finalized, negotiations were only a few short steps away from consensus. He emphasized the significance of the negotiations for the CBD and sustainable development. Commenting that environment and trade agreements have overlapping mandates, he stated that the challenge was to make these agreements mutually reinforcing.

Delegates enjoying a short break during which the Colombian organizers once again proved themselves to be excellents hosts.

Klaus Toefer working the floor. He is seen here prior to the afternoon Plenary, talking with representatives of the Chinese and Brazilian delegations.

After the Plenary, delegates of the Like-Minded Group gathered to decide who will represent them in the "small working group consisting of the legitimate voices� convened by President Mayr.


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Earth Negotiations Bulletin, 1999. All rights reserved.