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BSWG Chair Veit Koester (Denmark) opened the session on Monday, 12 May 1997, and recalled that COP-3 had entrusted the Working Group to complete its work on a biosafety protocol by the end of 1998. He noted that the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) at its most recent meeting had called upon the BSWG to complete its work rapidly. He stated that the meeting must concentrate on core issues and identify elements that would enable delegates to review a draft text for a protocol at BSGW-3 in October.

Mr. Zedan (UNEP) highlighted a number of developments since BSWG-1, including actions taken by SBSTTA, COP-3, the Bureau of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment and the nineteenth UNEP Governing Council. He also noted that many countries have begun formulating national biosafety mechanisms and submitting their project proposals for GEF support.

CBD Executive Secretary Calestous Juma summarized the activities of the secretariat since COP-3, including the first expert group meeting on marine and coastal biodiversity and implementation of the clearinghouse mechanism. He stated an expert workshop on the modus operandi of the CBD would be convened in November.

Delegates completed their discussions on the composition of the Bureau, which will remain in office until COP-4 in May 1998. The Bureau consists of the following members: Diego Malpede (Argentina); Veit Koester (Denmark); Behran Gebre Egziabher Tewolde (Ethiopia); Sandra Wint (Jamaica); Sateeaved Seebaluck (Mauritius); Ervin Balazs (Hungary); David Gamble (New Zealand); Alexander Golikov (Russian Federation); Antonio G.M. La Vina (Philippines); and Bum Soo Kwak (Republic of Korea).

Delegates then emphasized a number of priority issues for consideration. MALAYSIA, supported by SOUTH AFRICA, proposed focusing on the objective of the protocol, a definition of LMO, AIA, mechanisms for risk assessment, capacity-building, financial issues, and liability and compensation. With the PHILIPPINES, he also sought inclusion of socio-economic considerations. The EU stressed the importance of establishing procedures in case of international transboundary movement of LMOs. JAPAN, NORWAY and the REPUBLIC OF KOREA emphasized that the protocol should be consistent with the objectives of the CBD and should not exceed its scope. AUSTRALIA supported limiting the scope of the protocol to key issues such as information sharing and capacity-building. The US highlighted AIA and information sharing as the two central items for consideration. NORWAY emphasized risk assessment and capacity-building. Delegates raised a number of other considerations. The REPUBLIC OF KOREA and ARGENTINA said the protocol needs to be flexible to accommodate future advances in science and rapid technological change. The REPUBLIC OF KOREA, ARGENTINA, AUSTRALIA, JAPAN and SOUTH AFRICA said the protocol must be consistent with WTO rules. JAPAN and the REPUBLIC OF KOREA called for minimizing negative impacts on biotechnology or limitations on access to biotechnology. ETHIOPIA noted that African countries were “once bitten twice shy” and had accordingly submitted a detailed draft protocol.

The GREEN INDUSTRY BIOTECHNOLOGY PLATFORM stressed that the protocol should only apply to organisms that had been modified using recombinant DNA techniques and threaten to have an effect on biodiversity. Products of LMOs should not be included. The THIRD WORLD NETWORK called for the inclusion of: the precautionary principle; ethical, social and human health risks; public participation; and strict liability. She called for a moratorium on the release of LMOs until a legally-binding protocol is concluded.

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