EU PUSHES FOR ENVIRONMENTAL AGREEMENT ON GMOS IN MONTREAL
January 17, 2000
An international conference will seek to finalise the Protocol on Biosafety in Montreal on 24 to 28 January. The protocol is an international environmental agreement under the Convention of Biodiversity, which aims to facilitate a proper risk assesment prior to cross-border movements of Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) derived from biotechnology. After five years of negotiations, the European Union considers that the agreement must now be concluded. It should be based on the precautionary principle and balance environmental and trade concerns. A primary objective of this protocol is to enable developing countries often lacking adequate legislation and administrative capacity to take well founded decisions on the import of living genetically modified organisms and thereby to protect their biodiversity. The international community must also demonstrate that it takes the concerns of the citizens about the safety of biotechnology seriously. EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström urges all Governments to go to Montreal with a sincere willingness to conclude an agreement.
The final negotiation meeting of the Protocol on Biosafety, an important international agreement for the protection of the environment, will take place in Montreal on 24-28 January 1999. This would be the first Protocol under the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted at the Rio Conference in 1992. Formal negotiations were kicked off by the second Conference of the Parties to that Convention in 1995 in Jakarta. The parties set out to establish appropriate procedures and to enhance the safe transfer, handling and use of any living modified organisms resulting from biotechnology that may have adverse effect on biodiversity taking also into account risks to human health. It was decided that the Protocol should create a framework for international transboundary movements of living modified organisms derived from modern biotechnology. The previous attempt to finalise the Protocol in Cartagena, Columbia in February 1999, ended without agreement after the Miami group, comprising 6 major crop exporting countries including the US, opposed an EU compromise proposal supported by all other participants. The Commission, on the basis of unanimous Council Conclusions, has consistently worked towards a credible and realistic Protocol. Governments have to respond to the concerns about the possible impact of biotechnology on biodiversity expressed within the scientific community and the public at large. We are now in a situation where widespread dissemination and the release of living genetically modified organisms into the environment take place in the context of experimental field trials, large scale agriculture, marketing of agricultural commodities and products. International action based on the precautionary principle is necessary. An indispensable step to achieve safety in biotechnology is to provide any country of import with the possibility to take reasoned and scientifically based decisions prior to the import of living modified organisms. At the same time, the Protocol should strengthen environmental protection. It should not be used to create unnecessary barriers to trade. The Commission will continue to promote the EU's balanced approach to the Protocol and continue to support the Chairman to the negotiations, the Colombian Minister of the Environment, Mr Mayr, in his efforts to find an agreement in Montreal.
The most critical outstanding issues include workable rules for cross border movements and documentation requirements for agricultural LMO commodities intended for food, feed or processing. Secondly, the mutual supportiveness of the trade related aspects of the Protocol and the WTO rules needs to be clarified. It would not be acceptable to subordinate the Protocol to the WTO.
Finally, in the context of science based risk assessment, the precautionary principle needs to be recognised as a legitimate basis for decision-making on the authorisation of Living Modified Organisms.
Commissioner Wallström, who herself will attend the negotiations,affirms that:
"The Commission will continue to play a bridge-building role, while staying firm on essential points. We need to take the concerns of the citizens about the safety of biotechnology seriously. The Protocol should in particular help developing countries that do not yet have adequate mechanisms to deal with imports of living modified organisms. It should enable them to take decisions that they are confident with. We want a Protocol that contributes to the reduction of environmental risks by ensuring a fair sharing of responsibilities and good co-operation between exporting and importing
countries. The Commission urges all Parties the negotiations to come to
Montreal determined to reach an agreement and to be ready to take the
justified concerns of other Parties into account."