striking feature of the biosafety negotiations at
biennial meeting of Parties to the UN Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
A number of other significant Decisions were also adopted. A Strategic Plan for the next 10 years (2011-2020) and its multi-year programme of work for the next five years (2012-2016) lay out a plan and vision for its implementation. Key Decisions that take forward issues at the heart of the debate over biosafety - on risk assessment and socioeconomic impacts - were also adopted.
Liability and redress
Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress
is a supplementary protocol to the
the Cartagena Protocol was adopted in January 2000 in
However, liability and redress issues proved too contentious to resolve, and the compromise was to negotiate liability and redress rules at a later stage, after the entry into force of the Cartagena Protocol. This process began in earnest in 2005.
The name of the Supplementary Protocol reflects the contribution of two countries to the process: Nagoya, Japan where the negotiations of the Supplementary Protocol were completed and the Supplementary Protocol adopted; and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where the first COP-MOP was held in 2004 where the mandate of the first negotiating group was adopted, and where two negotiating meetings were held (and were supposed to be completed).
The negotiations of the Supplementary Protocol were difficult and were heavily opposed by those with an interest in the production and export of GMOs - the biotechnology industry, biotechnology scientists and non-Parties to the Cartagena Protocol - who had also actively worked to water down the Protocol and block the negotiations.
countries and some developed countries like
This is necessary to prevent damage to biological diversity, the environment and people, particularly in poor countries. In cases where damage does occur, a liability regime should ensure that financial resources are made available to enable or compensate for necessary measures to redress the damage.
At times, it appeared that there would be no agreement on the Supplementary Protocol. In particular, the issue of the nature of the liability regime had been very difficult to resolve. Most developing countries wanted to have a binding international regime that would set substantive rules on civil liability whereby victims of damage from LMOs can turn to national courts for redress.
Instead, the Supplementary Protocol takes an 'administrative approach' whereby response measures are required of the operator (person or entity in control of the LMO) or the competent authority if the operator is unable to take response measures. This would cover situations where damage has already occurred, or when there is a sufficient likelihood that damage will result if timely response measures are not taken.
However, countries can still provide for civil liability in their domestic law and the first review of the Supplementary Protocol (five years after its entry into force) will assess the effectiveness of domestic civil liability regimes. This could trigger further work on an international civil liability regime.
Much has been left to countries to determine and implement at the national level. This reflects the lack of consensus of countries in the negotiations. The process to truly ensure that there is justice when damage to people and the environment occurs is still a long and winding road.
Safe or unsafe?
One of the main dynamics influencing the negotiations in Nagoya was the political rift between those countries that consider that the Cartagena Protocol should be used to prevent damage arising from the risks that LMOs pose to biological diversity and human health and those countries that attempt to downplay those risks because they are, or plan to be, exporters of LMOs and products thereof.
This split was quite evident in discussions on the Strategic Plan, risk assessment and risk management, and capacity-building on socioeconomic issues. Discussions on the latter two revolved around the establishment or continuation of technical expert groups that would further consider risks of LMOs and provide guidance to Parties on addressing those risks.
Risk assessment and risk management
COP-MOP 5 continued and built on work on risk assessment and risk management initiated by COP-MOP 4 (held in Bonn in 2008), where Parties established an ad hoc technical expert group (AHTEG) on risk assessment and risk management to: (a) develop a 'roadmap' on the necessary steps to conduct a risk assessment; (b) consider needs for specific guidance documents for different types of LMOs and lay out a plan for developing those guidance documents; and (c) develop modalities for producing further guidance documents and testing the roadmap.
AHTEG met twice between
Parties at COP-MOP 5 were to consider these results of the AHTEG and determine the next steps on risk assessment and risk management under the Cartagena Protocol.
Divisions emerged between Parties that wished to continue the AHTEG and other Parties that were not happy with the outcomes of the AHTEG process. Conflict emerged on what to do with the roadmap and the guidance documents, on the current membership of the AHTEG, and on the terms of reference for the continued work of the group.
Several developing country Parties led the critique of the outcomes of the current AHTEG. Brazil, India, the Philippines, Paraguay and Mexico emerged at this meeting as strong deniers of the risks posed by LMOs, and either critiqued the composition of the AHTEG or stressed that the AHTEG outcomes should be further reviewed and 'validated'.
non-Parties to the Cartagena Protocol such as the
After it became clear that there was wide support (from the African Group and many other developing country Parties, as well as developed country Parties such as the European Union and Norway) for continuation of the current AHTEG, the countries that were not happy with the AHTEG and its outcomes fought for its expansion to include persons 'with hands-on experience' in risk assessment and risk management, as well as language in its revised terms of reference referring to 'peer review' of the roadmap and guidance documents.
A long discussion ensued on whether or not to retain the word 'peer' in front of 'review', which was concluded when the Chair replaced the word 'peer' with 'scientific'.
The final COP-MOP Decision provides for the continuing review and testing of the roadmap and guidance documents by the AHTEG, with a view to developing a revised version.
Under the agenda item on capacity-building, Parties considered several recommendations from the sixth Coordination Meeting for Governments and Organisations Implementing or Funding Biosafety Capacity-Building Activities regarding capacity-building needs for the assessment of socioeconomic impacts of LMOs.
The Coordination Meeting had identified lack of capacity as one of the main reasons preventing countries from taking socioeconomic impacts into consideration in their decision-making.
To address these capacity-building needs, the Coordination Meeting recommended to the COP-MOP to establish an expert group on socioeconomic considerations to, inter alia, develop criteria and guidance to assist Parties in determining which socioeconomic considerations to include in their decision-making.
During the COP-MOP discussions on the topic, a split emerged over whether an expert group was necessary at this time.
While the African Group and Bolivia were strongly in favour of convening an expert group, the EU, supported by several other countries, considered that it was premature for an expert group to develop guidance on taking socioeconomic considerations into account during decision-making, or that an expert group was not the appropriate means to address the topic. Budgetary constraints were also considered in the deliberations.
Negotiations on this item stretched into the final plenary, and the final compromise was to conduct online forums and hold a workshop on socioeconomic considerations, with the results to be forwarded to COP-MOP 6 for further consideration. The Norwegian government offered to support the workshop with a $75,000 contribution.
The Strategic Plan for the implementation of the Cartagena Protocol sets out five focal areas: facilitating the establishment and further development of effective biosafety systems for the implementation of the Cartagena Protocol; capacity-building; compliance and review; information sharing; and outreach and cooperation.
the first focal area,
On the issue of scientific and technical advice, the EU opposed provisions on mechanisms for providing scientific and technical advice in the Strategic Plan and the multi-year programme of work. These provisions were deleted.
The issue of socioeconomic considerations also reared its head in these discussions. The EU did not want an emphasis on socioeconomic guidance or guidelines for Parties in reaching decisions on imports, but rather on research and information exchange. They were strongly opposed by the African Group that wanted a focus on how Parties can take into account socioeconomic considerations in their decision-making.
The final language strikes a compromise: 'To, on the basis of research and information exchange, provide relevant guidance on socioeconomic considerations that may be taken into account in reaching decisions on the import of LMOs'.
This is further qualified with a reference to 'peer reviewed research' relevant to socioeconomic considerations.
Finances and resources
COP-MOP 5 saw a difficult debate on the issue of the financial mechanism and resources, with many developing countries lamenting the lack of support for implementation of biosafety measures at the national level.
Many developing countries called for the establishment of a special biosafety fund within the Global Environment Facility (GEF), to allow for funding of biosafety projects outside the new GEF System for Transparent Allocation of Resources (STAR).
However, the EU, represented at the meeting by the German GEF Council member, refused to include such a request to the GEF because it was outside the mandate of the COP-MOP to decide on the structural organisation of the GEF.
The final compromise language urged Parties to give priority to biosafety when applying for GEF funding under the biodiversity focal area, and urged the GEF to consider, during the next GEF replenishment process, defining specific quotas for biosafety funding for each country.
'Handling, transport, packaging and identification'
During COP-MOP 5, Parties considered two issues under the implementation of the Protocol on handling, transport, packaging and identification of LMOs.
First, they reviewed documentation requirements for LMOs intended for use as food, feed or for processing and, because of limited experience gained to date in implementation of these requirements, decided to postpone further consideration of this issue until COP-MOP 7 (in 2014).
Secondly, the Parties considered the need for and modalities of developing standards with regard to identification, handling, packaging and transport practices.
They agreed to request the Executive Secretary of the CBD to commission a study analysing gaps, guidance on the use of existing standards, and the possible need for elaboration of standards under the Protocol, for further consideration of the matter at COP-MOP 6.
6 will be held in
Li Lin is a researcher with the
*Third World Resurgence No. 242/243, October-November 2010, pp 37-39