Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE FOURTH SESSION OF THE AD HOC WORKING GROUP
ON BIOSAFETY SATURDAY, 7 FEBRUARY 1998
Delegates to the Fourth Meeting of the Open-Ended Ad Hoc Working
Group on Biosafety (BSWG-4) met in Plenary to review progress on
text consolidation and to discuss BSWG-4 recommendations to COP-
4. Plenary was followed by meetings of the two Sub-working
Groups (SWGs) which continued their work to consolidate draft
text for a Biosafety Protocol. Contact Groups (CGs) I and II
also met during the course of the day.
Chair Koester noted progress being made by the SWGs and CGs and
invited the Co-Chairs of each group to report on work
accomplished. Co-Chair Sandra Wint reported that SWG-I had
agreed on its procedure of work, completed review of Articles 4
and 5 and begun work on Article 6. Co-Chair Herity reported that
SWG-II had postponed work on Article 1, and 1 bis, completed
draft text for Articles 15 to 18, and completed an initial
review of draft text for Articles 23 to 27. He announced that
Amarjeet Ahuja (India) will join him as a Co-Chair for SWG-II.
Co-Chair Willemse for CG-I and Co-Chair Kummer for CG-II
reported on progress in their respective groups.
Chair Koester then opened discussion on BSWG-4’s recommendations
to COP-4, recalling key points raised in his aide memoire,
including: dates and lengths of the next two BSWG meetings;
deadline for government submissions of text; and character of
the COP to adopt the Protocol. Regarding length, Koester
recalled BSWG-3’s decision that the next BSWG meeting would be
12 working days and its final meeting would be 7-8 working days.
After reviewing the calendar of international environmental
meetings, the Chair suggested BSWG-5 be held the end of June to
mid-July, which the EU endorsed. ANTIGUA and BARBUDA, supported
by G77/CHINA and the EU, proposed late 1998 for the meeting of
the COP to adopt the Protocol.
Regarding the nature of the COP that would adopt the Protocol,
G77/CHINA supported by the EU, favored an extraordinary session,
with an agenda limited to discussion of the Biosafety Protocol.
ARGENTINA questioned whether such a decision was premature
without financial support. Koester stated that such concerns
were beyond the scope of BSWG-4. Delegates recommended that the
extraordinary COP allocate responsibility for work required
prior to the first meeting of the Parties to the Protocol.
Delegates refrained from making recommendations regarding the
structure of the Secretariat to the Protocol.
Delegates considered consolidated text compiled by the
Secretariat based upon the previous day’s discussions of
Articles 4 and 5.
NOTIFICATION PROCEDURE FOR ADVANCE INFORMED AGREEMENT (AIA)
(Article 4): Two regional groups suggested moving text,
requiring an exporter to wait until receipt of the AIA from the
Party of import to begin a proposed transfer, to an article such
as Article 6 (Decision Procedure for AIA), Article 25 (Illegal
Traffic) or Article 1 bis (General Obligations). Some delegates
stressed the need for consistency of terms such as “Party of
import/export” throughout the article. One delegate proposed
inserting “applicant” before language referring to
exporter/importer to connote initiator. One delegation requested
that “National Focal Point” be added to the list of possible
notification recipients. SWG-1 adopted consolidated text on
Article 4 with modifications proposed in the discussion to be
forwarded to the Plenary.
RESPONSE TO AIA NOTIFICATION (Article 5): Some delegates
supported moving a reference to “subsequent imports,” initially
inserted to establish procedure for AIA on consecutive
transactions, to a different article. One delegation proposed
adding designated “National Competent Authority of the Party of
export” as a recipient for acknowledgement of receipt. Some
delegates proposed text requiring an importer to inform the
notifier whether notification was received in the correct form,
however, two regional groups opposed such an addition. Two
additional paragraphs, one on whether written consent would be
necessary for a transboundary movement, and the other on the
need to indicate whether notification was complete, more
information would be necessary, or additional time would be
required, were also added to the article.
DECISION BY THE PARTY OF IMPORT (Article 6): Two delegations
proposed consolidated text drawn from the Chairman’s Note
(UNEP/CBD/BSWG/4/Inf.2). Upon the Co-Chair’s request, these
delegations met in a drafting group to merge their texts. One
regional group, supported by other delegations, expressed
concern over this process and requested that the Chairman’s text
serve as the basis for negotiation, especially since the merged
text was only available in English.
CG-I met briefly in the morning and reviewed definitions
discussed yesterday. In the afternoon, the group began
consideration of Annex II (Risk Assessment Parameters) in
UNEP/CBD/BSWG/3/6. The Co-Chair invited statements from NGOs on
the issue. An environmental group urged delegates to ensure that
the scope of the Protocol and Annex II minimized the
release/escape of transgenic recombinant/novel DNA. An industry
representative emphasized the need for Annex II to be
practicable, based on science, and adaptable to advances in
science. In discussing the title, CG-I decided on “Risk
Assessment Factors” as an acceptable starting point. Delegates
considered whether the requirements for an RA in the Annex had
the status of guidelines or obligatory requirements, and noted
the need for guidance from SWG-I. Delegates then discussed the
chapeau, which included the nature of the risks to be taken into
account in an RA. Some delegates opposed a reference to “human
and animal health” and “the socio-economic welfare of societies”
in the chapeau, which were bracketed. Following an observation
that the chapeau’s contents might be better placed in an
Article, the entire chapeau was bracketed, pending further
guidance from SWG-1.
CG-I then moved to the “general principles” section of the
Annex. Delegates began by considering the section on “objective
of an RA” in the UNEP International Technical Guidelines for
Safety in Biotechnology (Guidelines). CG-I decided to work from
the Guidelines, which most delegates felt were more concise, and
to include elements from the draft Annex II as necessary.
Following preliminary discussions, however, delegates decided to
retain only a small section of the text on objectives. Delegates
then discussed the broad categories of information to be
included in an RA. All agreed on the need for information
relating to: the organism, its intended use, and characteristics
of the receiving environment. Inclusion of two additional areas
of information, socio-economic considerations and the
originating environment, were bracketed.
SWG-II began meeting after the Plenary, using
UNEP/CBD/BSWG/4/Inf.2 (Chairman’s Note on Articles 1, 1 bis and
15-27) as the basis for its work.
INFORMATION-SHARING/BIOSAFETY CLEARING-HOUSE (Article 19): Many
delegates warned against excessive proliferation of
informational mechanisms. One developing country noted
technological difficulties in accessing the CBD’s Clearing-House
Mechanism (CHM) under the CBD, stressing that another mechanism
would further complicate the situation. Many governments
supported use of the CBD’s CHM, while others called for a
distinct database. Regarding specific information for exchange,
a number of delegations stressed the need for a short list of
types of information. Another delegate advised caution in coming
to closure on this issue as other articles still under
discussion contained references to the biosafety clearing-house.
The Co-Chair stated that the Secretariat would consolidate text
based on the views expressed.
CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION (Article 20): Several developing
countries preferred no article on confidential information,
since it is already covered by existing national and
international regulatory regimes. Several countries stressed the
need for retaining the article. Specific concerns raised
included, inter alia: the balance between protecting
confidential information and the need to provide adequate
information for handling emergencies; the balance between rights
and obligations of both receiving and providing parties; and
wording that might obstruct technological development. Delegates
supported formation of a small drafting group to consolidate
options in current documents, as well as text tabled by one
CAPACITY BUILDING (Article 21): The need for capacity building
in biosafety and/or biotechnology was recognized by all
speakers, but delegates disagreed on whether the Protocol
should address this in a separate article, in the preamble, or
have no provision at all. Much, but not all, of the support for
a separate provision came from developing countries, who
emphasized that capacity building in risk assessment and risk
management is crucial for an effective Protocol. Delegates
supporting a provision on this issue differed regarding the
degree of specificity of such a provision. Some governments
preferred reliance on existing multilateral, regional and
bilateral mechanisms, such as the UNEP Guidelines, GEF and CBD
Decisions III/5 and III/20 regarding biosafety. One delegation
cautioned against such reliance and stated that the COP
intentionally avoided addressing this issue in detail, given the
forthcoming Biosafety Protocol.
PUBLIC AWARENESS/PUBLIC PARTICIPATION (Article 22): Regarding
the need for and scope of provisions on this issue, views ranged
from no article to encouraging public participation in RA
decisions. Several delegates acknowledged the value of
provisions on public participation within the Protocol, but
preferred a focus on “appropriate measures,” or preambular
treatment. One delegate highlighted developing countries’ needs
for communication tools to achieve this article’s goals. SWG-II
concluded its meeting and two informal drafting groups met to
further consolidate text on Articles 20 and 21.
CG-II met in the afternoon to review deletion of Articles 32
(Jurisdictional Scope), 38 (Ratification, Acceptance or
Approval), and 39 (Accession), which are covered under the CBD.
Delegates also agreed on text for Articles 33 (Relationship with
the Convention), 37 (Signature), Article 40 (Entry into Force),
42 (Withdrawal) and 43 (Authentic Text). The group continued
deliberations on Articles 29 (Conference of the Parties) and 30
(Subsidiary Bodies and Mechanisms).
IN THE CORRIDORS
Some delegates expressed satisfaction with progress being made,
while others noted that the first few days were merely setting
the stage for more protracted debates in the final week. At an
NGO-Government meeting, designed to examine the potential
application of the Biosafety Protocol to specific case studies,
participants were entertained by role reversal presentations by
representatives from industry, environmental NGOs, academia and
governments. Sparring between environmental groups and industry
over procedural issues and the “facts” in their respective case
studies seemed to constrain the level of government interaction
with the groups.
THINGS TO LOOK FOR TODAY
SUB-WORKING GROUP-I: SWG-I will meet at 10:00 am to continue
work on Articles 6-8 and to consider definitions referred to it
SUB-WORKING GROUP-II: SWG-II will meet at 10:00 am to start
discussion on Articles 1 and 1 bis.
CONTACT GROUP-I: CG-I will meet on Monday at 10:00 am to
continue discussion of Annex II.
CONTACT GROUP-II: CG-II will meet at 1:30 – 3:00 pm in Room 5 to
begin discussion on Article 35, legal definitions of non-
discrimination, illegal traffic and non-parties, and the
SECRETARIAT BRIEFING: There will be a Secretariat briefing on
preparations for COP-4 at 2 pm, Assembly Hall 2.
PRESENTATIONS: In Room 1.15
1 pm: Biotechnology: Experiences from the Czech Republic
2 pm: Biotechnology and Bioprospecting
SECRETARIAT RECEPTION: 6:30 pm, 4th Floor Foyer