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The First Meeting of the Open-ended Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety (BSWG-1) opened on Monday, 22 July 1996. Sarwono Kusmaatmadja, Indonesia’s Minister of Environment, in his capacity as President of COP-2 to the CBD, underscored that this meeting was not only an important step in the evolution of the CBD, but also the first major effort by the international community to address biosafety through a negotiating process. He noted that the CBD represents the appropriate forum for advancing both international law and cooperation in biosafety.

Svend Auken, Minister for Environment and Energy of Denmark, underscored his government’s long-standing commitment to the development of a biosafety protocol. He juxtaposed the positive potential with the uncertain risks of biotechnology in the areas of agriculture, health care and environment. Stating that “gene technology is not just an extension of traditional plant and animal breeding”, he cautioned against “arrogant ignorance” resulting in irreversible harmful effects on the environment and loss of public confidence. He noted that a biosafety protocol will need to contain trade-related measures that should not be overridden by the WTO.

Jorge Illueca, Assistant Executive Director for Environmental Management of UNEP, outlined the evolution of international discussions on biosafety as well as UNEP’s initiatives in this field, including: the development of International Technical Guidelines for Safety in Biotechnology; a series of regional meetings on the implementation of the guidelines and capacity building; an International Register on Biosafety; a UNEP/BioIndustry meeting as part of UNEP’s outreach initiatives towards key stakeholders in the field of biodiversity; and joint training programmes on biosafety with the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and UNIDO’s International Centres for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB).

Calestous Juma, Executive Secretary of the CBD, provided a progress report on the establishment of the Secretariat in Montreal and expressed his appreciation to the Government of Canada for its support. He noted that this meeting of the BSWG indicated that the Secretariat was fully functioning, and pledged to mobilize the best scientific and technical competence. He outlined cooperative efforts with other international institutions and biodiversity-related conventions. Highlighting the enormity of the task of administering the CBD, he called on Parties to offer their support.

Peter Schei (Norway), Co-Chair of the COP’s Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA), summarized the recent Conference on Alien Species held in Trondheim, Norway, from 1-5 July 1996, in cooperation with UNESCO, UNEP and the IUCN. The Conference covered both accidental introduction of alien species (through international transport, trade and tourism) and deliberate introductions (through agriculture, forestry and fisheries), both of which were identified as serious global threats to biodiversity.

Kalemani Mulongoy of the International Academy for the Environment summarized a workshop held in Aarhus immediately prior to BSWG-1 from 19-20 July 1996 on “Transboundary Movement of LMOs Resulting from Biotechnology: Issues and Opportunities for Policy-Makers”. The threefold purpose of this workshop was to: enhance awareness of the biosafety issue; share experiences and information to facilitate implementation of the UNEP International Guidelines for Biosafety; and share information for the work of BSWG-1.

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