Published by the International
Institute for Sustainable Development
Vol. 09 No. 114
19 February 1999
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE SIXTH SESSION OF THE AD HOC WORKING GROUP
ON BIOSAFETY (BSWG-6)
THURSDAY, 18 FEBRUARY 1999
Delegates to the sixth session of the Open-ended Ad Hoc Working
Group on Biosafety (BSWG-6) were presented with the Chairs text
in the early afternoon. They reviewed the text in regional and
informal groups. The Friends of the Chair met at 4:00 pm, where
delegates pointed to mistakes in the text and noted that it did
not accurately reflect their views. Delegates were told that the
text would be corrected. At 9:30 pm, delegates received a seven-
page corrigendum to the Chairs draft text. The Friends of the
Chair met at 10:00 pm.
CHAIRS TEXT FOR A PROTOCOL ON BIOSAFETY
The corrected version of the Chairs text contains 39 Articles
and three annexes. Three articles on notification of transit,
subsequent imports and minimum national standards were deleted.
All brackets were dropped. The Chairs text, which reflects the
positions taken by delegates during the week, differs from the
draft negotiating text in a number of key aspects, including the
"Products Thereof:" Products thereof are not covered by
the AIA procedure. However, they are referenced under
Information Sharing/Biosafety Clearing-House and Annexes I
(Information Required in Notification for AIA) and II (Risk
Human health: The term is included in the Article on
objective, and referenced throughout the text. Parties are
encouraged to work with international fora having expertise in
Precautionary Principle: In the Preamble and the Article on
objective, the text references the precautionary approach as
contained in Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration, not the
General Obligations: The text excludes an obligation on
parties of export to receive, before export, an AIA in writing
from the party of import.
Scope: The protocol will not apply to LMOs specified in
Annex III (LMOs not likely to have adverse effects on
biodiversity, taking into account risks to human health) and
pharmaceuticals for humans. Transit and LMOs destined for
contained use are covered only in certain articles.
AIA: The AIA procedure covers the first transboundary
movement of an LMO and LMOs destined for growth, reproduction
and propagation in the environment. It does not cover: transit;
LMOs destined for contained use; and LMOs not likely to have
adverse effects on biodiversity, also taking into account risks
to human health. A provision under AIA permits parties to
prohibit imports of LMOs even where there is lack of full
scientific certainty or scientific consensus.
Risk Assessment: The text states that the party of import
can require the exporter to carry out a risk assessment, and
that the financial responsibility for risk assessment shall rest
with the notifier.
Risk Management: Specific reference to antibiotic-
resistance marker genes and their phasing out and banning was
removed, as was a paragraph on financial and technical
assistance for parties of import.
Handling, Transport, Packaging and Labeling: The Article on
handling, transport, packaging and labeling changed into an
article on handling, transport, packaging and identification. It
contains a reference to human health and puts the onus on the
COP to determine if standards need to be developed.
Confidential Information: The text contains references to
information that may not be considered confidential, thus
circumventing the debate on the earlier options should not
generally and in no case may be, supported respectively, in
general, by developed and developing countries.
Public Awareness and Participation: The text encourages
parties to consult with the public in the decision-making
process. It retains a disputed reference to the protection of
Non-Parties: The text states that transboundary movements
of LMOs with non-parties shall be consistent with the objectives
and carried out on the basis of the principles of the protocol.
Non-Discrimination: The Article remains in the text stating
that parties shall ensure that their implementation of the
protocol does not discriminate unjustifiably between or among
imported and domestic LMOs and does not create unnecessary
obstacles to international trade.
Illegal Traffic: The article on illegal traffic, despite
its change into an article on illegal transboundary movement
in the text, retains the provision permitting the party affected
by illegal transboundary movement to request the party of origin
to dispose of the LMOs at its own cost.
Socio-economic Considerations: The Article remains, stating
that parties may take into account socio-economic implications
of adverse impacts on biodiversity, including risks to human
health and regard for indigenous and local communities, when
deciding on imports. Additional language encourages research on
socio-economic impacts caused by LMOs, including the need for
early warning systems to alert indigenous and local communities
that may be affected economically. The Article on objective
excludes reference to socio-economic imperatives.
Liability and Redress: The Article remains in the text and
states that parties shall examine the modalities of
establishing and developing rules and procedures on liability
and redress, based on studies to be carried out. The first
Meeting of the Parties will start a process to elaborate rules
and procedures with a view towards completion within six years.
Relationship with Other International Agreements: The
Article states that this protocol shall not affect the rights
and obligations of parties under existing agreements except
where there would be serious damage or threats to biodiversity.
Annexes: In Annex II (Risk Assessment) technical and
scientific information to be taken into account no longer
includes safety considerations for human health and socio-
economic considerations. Products thereof are referenced in
Annexes I and II. A new Annex III has been added on LMOs not
likely to have adverse affects on biodiversity, taking into
account risks to human health.
Interim Arrangements: A draft decision under discussion on
arrangements to prepare for the entry into force of the protocol
provides for the establishment of an open-ended ad hoc
Intergovernmental Committee for the Cartagena Protocol on
Biosafety (ICCPB). The Chair of the ICCPB remains to be decided
and a meeting will be held during the Extraordinary COP to elect
its Bureau. The ICCPB would first meet in early 2000. The draft
decision also sets out a proposed supplementary budget for
additional activities under the protocol.
FRIENDS OF THE CHAIR
In the Friends of the Chair meeting, which started at 10:20 pm,
discussion reportedly focused on procedural matters. Many
developing countries requested time to consider the Chairs text
and corrigendum. The Chair reportedly urged delegates not to
introduce new brackets and emphasized that changes would only be
made to the text if they were agreed to by consensus. One
delegate reported that the Chair had reiterated his demand to
limit participation in the group and stressed the midnight
Friday deadline for concluding the protocol.
IN THE CORRIDORS
Confusion erupted when, 15 minutes after convening, the Friends
of the Chair poured out of the meeting room, some announcing
they were retiring to their hotels to await the release of an
updated version of the Chairs text. Complaints that the Chair's
text did not reflect what had been agreed on, were countered by
news that the wrong version had been circulated and studied by
delegates throughout the afternoon. People pointed to missing
sections, unexpected language, editorial errors and differences
in articles provisionally adopted the night before.
As delegates awaited the arrival of a corrigendum to the
text, rumors multiplied as to what had really happened. Some
suggested that outdated texts had mistakenly been used to
prepare the Chair's text, and wondered how such errors had
slipped by. Some shrugged this off as not surprising considering
the sleep deprivation of all involved and the multitude of
contact groups dealing with interlinked articles. Others were
not so generous in their judgements, alluding to possible delay
tactics or "back door" attempts to push through controversial
elements. Many participants complained that a whole day of
negotiations had been lost, while others wandered around the
conference center looking for official word from the Chair or
Reflecting on the text, some said that while it was not ideal,
they would not reject it and expressed confidence that agreement
could be reached. Others thought the text failed to strike the
necessary balance and did not accurately reflect an acceptable
compromise, giving "crumbs to some and the rest of the cake to a
few." Several participants commented that the Chair had taken a
gamble with his text and it was not yet clear whether he had hit
THINGS TO LOOK FOR
FRIENDS OF THE CHAIR: The Friends of the Chair are scheduled to
meet at 10:00 am. Contact Group I and the Legal Drafting Group
may also meet during the day. Check the board for updates.