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Summary report, 22–26 July 1996

1st Meeting of the Open-ended Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety (BSWG-1)

The Open-ended Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety (BSWG) held its firstmeeting in Aarhus, Denmark, from 22-26 July 1996 to begin the elaboration of a globalprotocol on safety in biotechnology. More than 90 delegations, including scientific andtechnical experts, representing both Parties and non-Parties to the Convention onBiological Diversity (CBD) attended the meeting, as did observers representingintergovernmental organizations, NGOs and industry. BSWG-1 marked the first formalmeeting to develop a protocol under the CBD and to operationalize one of its key — andmost contentious — components.

Although the meeting produced little in the way of written results, it represented a forumfor defining issues and articulating positions characteristic of the pre-negotiation process.The meeting revealed several interesting dichotomies, including a fracture in the G-77/China bloc over elements to be included in the protocol, first observed in Jakarta at thesecond Conference of the Parties (COP-2) to the CBD, as well as strikingly divergentperspectives on biotechnology. Nonetheless, governments listed elements for a futureprotocol, agreed to hold two meetings in 1997 and outlined the information required toguide their future work.


Since the early 1970s, recombinant DNA technology — the ability to transfer geneticmaterial through biochemical means — has enabled scientists to genetically modifyplants, animals and micro-organisms rapidly. Modern biotechnology can also introduce agreater diversity of genes into organisms, including genes from unrelated species, thantraditional methods of breeding and selection. Organisms genetically modified in thisway are referred to as living modified organisms derived from modern biotechnology(LMOs).

Biotechnology has led to advances in medicine, and promises improved agriculturalproducts and industrial processes as well. Agricultural biotechnology can be used toimprove the resistance of plants to pests or to environmental stresses, or to increase thecommercial value of agricultural products. Other uses for biotechnology includeenvironmentally-friendly industrial processes which may reduce the use of harsh or toxicchemicals.

Although modern biotechnology has demonstrated its utility, there are concerns about thepotential risks to biodiversity and human health posed by LMOs. Many countries withbiotechnology industries already have domestic legislation in place intended to ensure thesafe transfer, handling, use and disposal of LMOs and their products (these precautionarypractices are collectively known as “biosafety”). However, there are no bindinginternational agreements addressing situations where LMOs cross national borders.

Two categories of intended use of LMOs, contained use and field release, are recognized.LMOs intended for contained use are usually research material, and are subject to well-defined risk management techniques involving laboratory containment. LMOs developedfor agricultural and, in some cases, industrial biotechnology, are intended for fieldrelease. Field testing of LMOs is a new undertaking, and the interaction of LMOs withvarious ecosystems continues to generate questions about safety. Some of the concernsabout field release of LMOs include: unintended changes in the competitiveness,virulence or other characteristics of the target species; the possibility of adverse impactson non-target species and ecosystems; the potential for weediness in genetically modifiedcrops; and the stability of inserted genes.


The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which was negotiated under the auspicesof the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), was adopted in May 1992 andwas opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Brazil on 5 June 1992. It entered intoforce on 29 December 1993. As of 1 July 1996, 152 countries had become Parties to theConvention.

Article 19.4 of the Convention provides for Parties to consider the need for andmodalities of a protocol, including advance informed agreement in particular, to ensurethe safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms derived from modernbiotechnology that may have an adverse effect on biological diversity and itscomponents.

MADRID MEETING: The first Conference of the Parties to the CBD, whichwas held from 28 November - 9 December 1994, established an Open-ended AdHoc Group of Experts on Biosafety. This Group met in Madrid from 24-28 July 1995.According to the report of the meeting (UNEP/CBD/COP.2/7), most delegations favoredthe development of an international framework on biosafety under the Convention. Theproposed elements of such a framework, as drafted in Madrid, are divided into twocategories — those favored unanimously and those favored by a subset of delegatesrepresenting primarily developing countries. In the Annex to the report, paragraph 18(a)lists the former elements, which include: all activities related to LMOs that may haveadverse effects on biodiversity; transboundary movement of LMOs, including unintendedmovement; release of LMOs in centres of origin/genetic diversity; mechanisms for riskassessment and management (RAM); procedures for advance informed agreement (AIA);facilitated information exchange; capacity building; and implementation and definition ofterms. Paragraph 18(b) lists the latter elements, including: socioeconomic considerations;liability and compensation; and financial issues.

UNEP GUIDELINES: In another meeting relevant to the biosafety process, theUNEP Panel of Experts on International Technical Guidelines for Biosafety met in Cairo,Egypt, from 11-14 December 1995 to adopt a set of international technical guidelines forbiosafety under the aegis of UNEP (UNEP Guidelines). The UNEP Guidelines(UNEP/Global Consultations/Biosafety/4) are intended to provide a technical frameworkfor risk management commensurate with risk assessment, without prejudice to thedevelopment of a biosafety protocol by the COP of the CBD.

COP-2: At the second meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD(COP-2), which took place in Jakarta, Indonesia, from 6-17 November 1995, delegatesmet to consider the need for and modalities of a protocol on biosafety. From the outset itwas clear that delegates intended to set in motion a negotiation process to develop aprotocol on biosafety. While Northern delegations wanted to focus on “transboundarytransfer of any LMO”, Southern delegations preferred a “protocol on biosafety in the fieldof the safe transfer, handling and use of LMOs.” The compromise language that wasadopted by the COP calls for “a negotiation process to develop in the field of the safetransfer, handling and use of living modified organisms, a protocol on biosafety,specifically focusing on transboundary movement of any LMO that may have an adverseeffect on biological diversity, setting out appropriate procedures for advanced informedagreement.”

The decision also established an Open-ended Ad Hoc Working Group onBiosafety (BSWG) to meet to “elaborate, as a priority, the modalities and elements of aprotocol based on appropriate elements from paragraph 18(a)” of the report of the Madridmeeting, and to “consider the inclusion of the elements from paragraph 18(b) asappropriate.” Other terms of reference for BSWG (UNEP/CBD/BSWG/1/2) state that theWorking Group shall:

  • elaborate key terms and concepts;
  • consider AIA procedures;
  • identify relevant categories of LMOs;
  • develop a protocol whose effective functioning requires that Parties establish national measures and that takes into account the precautionary principle;
  • develop a protocol that provides for a review mechanism and seeks to minimize unnecessary negative impacts on biotechnology and does not hinder unduly access to and transfer of technology;
  • take into account gaps in the existing legal framework;
  • develop a protocol with a view to the largest possible number of ratifications; and
  • use the best available scientific information.

The results of BSWG-1 will be reported back to the third meeting of the Conference ofParties (COP-3) of the CBD, which takes place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from 4-15November 1996. The Biosafety Working Group is expected to conclude its work in 1998.


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

Svend Auken, Minister for Environment and Energy of Denmark, underscored hisgovernment’s long-standing commitment to the development of a biosafety protocol. Hejuxtaposed the positive potential with the uncertain risks of biotechnology in the areas ofagriculture, health care and environment. Stating that “gene technology is not just anextension of traditional plant and animal breeding”, he cautioned against “arrogantignorance” resulting in irreversible harmful effects on the environment and loss of publicconfidence. He noted that a biosafety protocol will need to contain trade-related measuresthat 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’sinitiatives in this field, including: the development of International Technical Guidelinesfor Safety in Biotechnology; a series of regional meetings on the implementation of theguidelines and capacity building; an International Register on Biosafety; aUNEP/BioIndustry meeting as part of UNEP’s outreach initiatives towards keystakeholders in the field of biodiversity; and joint training programmes on biosafety withthe UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and UNIDO’s InternationalCentres for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB).

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

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

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


The Plenary then adopted the provisional agenda (UNEP/CBD/BSWG/1/1) and electedVeit Koester (Denmark) as the Chair of the meeting. In his opening statement, Koestercalled biotechnology “an object of considerable economic interest” and highlighted itspotential for both environmental benefit and harm. He characterized BSWG-1 as the “pre-negotiation stage” and called for a non-confrontational atmosphere and for theparticipants to relax and listen to each other. He reminded the meeting that CBD Article28.2 calls for adoption of protocols by the COP, that the rules of procedure call forconsensus on all matters of substance, and that the terms of reference for the BSWG statethat the largest number of Parties possible should ratify a biosafety protocol.

At its third session, delegates elected the remaining members of the Bureau, comprised oftwo officers for each of the five regions as follows: Sateeaved Seebaluck (Mauritius),Tewolde Egziabher (Ethiopia), Shin Gil Sou (Republic of Korea), Antonio La Vina(Philippines), Diego Malpede (Argentina), Sandra Wint (Jamaica), David Gamble (NewZealand), Ervin Balazs (Hungary), and Alexander Golikov (Russian Federation) asRapporteur.

In its introduction of the documents for this session, the Secretariat explained that COP-2had provided no guidance on the nature or content of the documentation for the meeting,and the pre-session documents had been produced after consultations with the COP-2Bureau. The documents included:

  • the BSWG-1 annotated agenda (UNEP/CBD/BSWG/1/Add.1);
  • the terms of reference for the BSWG (UNEP/CBD/BSWG/1/2);
  • a Secretariat note elaborating on the terms of reference (UNEP/CBD/BSWG/1/3), which was not intended to be used as a basis for negotiation of a protocol;
  • the report of the Open-ended Ad Hoc Group of Experts on Biosafety (UNEP/CBD/COP.2/7); and
  • the report of the Global Consultation of Government-designated Experts in International Technical Guidelines for Safety in Biotechnology (UNEP/Global Consultation/Biosafety/4).


On Monday afternoon, 22 July, the Chair called on countries to make formal openingstatements.

MALAYSIA called for a global protocol based on the precautionary principle and for theestablishment of minimum standards for national legislation. He supported a database onthe release of LMOs and noted that risk assessment must include characteristics oforganisms and interaction with the site of release. He called for a broad interpretation toinclude socioeconomic, liability and funding issues.

IRELAND, on behalf of the EU, expressed its continued support for a two-track processthat consists of the development of a protocol while promoting the application of UNEP’sGuidelines. He underscored several key points for a protocol, including: scientific riskassessment and management based on the precautionary principle; flexibility and non-duplication; a focused scope and clear definitions; provisions for AIA proportionate to therisks involved; and consistency with the WTO. The EU later expressed hope that BSWG-1 would arrive at the structure of a protocol comprised of two sections. The first sectionwould cover the objective, scope and definition of a protocol, while the second wouldcomprise operational elements such as AIA notification procedures and national focalpoints. He also called for guidance on future proceedings.

SOUTH AFRICA highlighted existing biotechnology contributions in the areas ofagriculture and health and noted that international trade in LMOs should not beunjustifiably restricted. Nonetheless, he stated that LMOs always represent a risk,especially to those countries and communities that depend on biodiversity for theirlivelihood. He called for minimum standards in national legislation, as well as definitionof terms and categorization of LMOs so as to avoid undue polarity.

Referring to the “Spirit of Aarhus”, the US stated that debate on procedure should notdivert delegates from important issues of substance. He proposed that the meeting firstconsider the three priority items identified in the terms of reference to facilitate laterelaboration of a protocol. He supported widespread information sharing and relevant riskassessments for countries lacking indigenous capacity, and called for agreement on aprocess for the future work of the BSWG.

JAPAN proposed a study on the transboundary movement of LMOs and noted that ascientifically sound protocol should start with an analysis of existing national andregional agreements so as to avoid both duplication and overriding. He noted that anyprotocol should be designed so that as many countries as possible could ratify it.

NORWAY underscored the importance of fulfilling the meeting’s mandate in terms ofboth the substance and timing of negotiations. He noted that COP-2 Decision II/5 alreadystated that no existing international instrument adequately addressed transboundarymovement of LMOs and called for a global biosafety protocol to be concluded by 1998.

COSTA RICA, on behalf of the G-77/CHINA, highlighted critical issues in the report ofthe Open-ended Ad Hoc Group of Experts (UNEP/CBD/COP.2/7). However,while it is important to consider the items agreed to in Madrid, additional items that somedelegations consider to be important, such as socioeconomic considerations, liability andcompensation, and financial issues, should be discussed here and at future meetings. Healso highlighted training and capacity building.


Delegates agreed with the Chair’s proposal that discussion of the elements of a protocolshould commence with the list of items identified in paragraph 18(a) of Annex I to thereport of the Madrid meeting. From the paragraph of the terms of reference on priorityitems, the Chair identified three priorities for initial discussion: key concepts and terms;form and scope of AIA procedures; and relevant categories of LMOs. He then invitedcomments on the first priority issue, key concepts and terms.

KEY CONCEPTS AND TERMS: SWITZERLAND, supported byMALAYSIA, stated that defining the ultimate purpose of the protocol is a priority.MALAYSIA identified key concepts as: LMOs are genetically modified organisms,including genetic material intended to produce LMOs and including subcellular particlessuch as DNA. He included the behavior of LMOs in the environment under the scope oftransboundary movement.

The EU highlighted adverse effects of LMOs on biodiversity (Article 19.3), includingconsideration of human health, as a key issue. He noted existing EU legislation onbiosafety. CHINA added the concept of release of LMOs into the environment. INDIAexcluded fragments or parts of nucleic acids from the definition of LMOs, and includedthe use of gene products derived from LMOs. The PHILIPPINES underlined unintendedmovement of LMOs, and added release in centres of origin and genetic diversity to thelist. He referred to the precautionary principle.

INDONESIA highlighted AIA, unintended release and liability and compensation.AUSTRALIA mentioned LMOs, transboundary movement, adverse effects and AIA. Hecalled for careful definition of “centres of origin and genetic diversity.”

SUDAN added LMOs produced domestically, for example in fermentation, to thedefinition of LMOs, as well as the concept of boundaries. NIGERIA suggested utilizingprevious work, including UNEP’s International Technical Guidelines for Biosafety. Acoalition of biotechnology industry organizations known as the INDUSTRY GROUP,including the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), the Japan BioindustryAssociation (JBA), the Green Industry Biotechnology Platform (GIBIP) and the SeniorAdvisory Group on Biotechnology (SAGB), underlined the concept of AIA and the needto avoid undue barriers to technical cooperation and commercialization. He called forregulating the transboundary movement of only the LMOs agreed by the COP as havingpotentially adverse effects.

ARGENTINA suggesting using existing precedents for AIA procedures, especiallyAnnex II of the UNEP Guidelines. ETHIOPIA noted that modern biotechnology israpidly evolving. He stated that microbes extinct for millions of years can be resuscitated,and called for clear definitions of handling, use and disposal. He also highlighted theimportance of risk assessment from an ecological point of view. NORWAY mentionednational regulations as a key concept, and suggested emphasizing those LMOs that mayhave adverse effects.

IRAN noted the need to classify LMOs in order to elaborate the risks of biotechnology.SOUTH AFRICA listed several concepts requiring clarification, including: biomaterial;information exchange; unjustifiable constraints to trade; and the precautionary principleas elaborated in both the UNEP Guidelines and the Rio Declaration and as distinct fromthe precautionary approach.

COSTA RICA disagreed with Ethiopia’s contention that LMOs could realistically beresurrected from the past. NEW ZEALAND highlighted the following priority issuesrequiring clarification: LMOs resulting from biotechnology; transboundary movement;centres of origin and of genetic diversity; and AIA principles and procedures. KENYAnoted the importance of defining both safe transfer and safety procedures in riskmanagement, explaining that these terms were subjective, meaning different things todifferent countries and regions. MOROCCO underscored the need to clarify geneticallymodified organisms (GMOs) that lead to the creation of multicell organisms and theidentification of behaviors and characteristics of LMOs. He supported Ethiopia’s positionregarding the need for a clearer definition of biotechnology, taking into account spiritualvalues espoused by many countries. SRI LANKA supported the EU’s interventionregarding adverse effects on conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, humanhealth and welfare.

POLAND suggested adopting definitions already agreed to in OECD and EC directives.TUNISIA noted the need to first define biosafety, just as biodiversity is first defined inthe CBD. The Chair noted that biosafety was merely an abbreviation of “safety inbiotechnology”, which was already defined in the CBD. He noted that the WorkingGroup would benefit from a list of agreed definitions compiled from existing legalinstruments or negotiated documents. He reported that the industry sector had alreadysubmitted a glossary of terms to the Secretariat and called on delegates to determine towhat extent key concepts are already defined in other agreed or negotiated texts, legalinstruments and soft law.

FORM AND SCOPE OF AIA PROCEDURES: The Working Group thenaddressed the form and scope of advance informed agreement procedures.

SWITZERLAND proposed to circulate a discussion paper that outlines how AIAs wouldapply to transboundary movement of LMOs, on the basis of clearly defined concepts. Henoted that AIAs should be flexible, based on existing structures. Later supported by theUS and NEW ZEALAND, he stated that AIAs should only apply to the initialtransboundary movement of LMOs, while notification procedures could cover subsequentmovements.

The PHILIPPINES noted the need to define the terms of AIA, which it considers to beinterchangeable with PIC. These terms should specify: the timing and parties to theagreement; nature, source and target of information to be provided; and liability provisionin case of agreement violation.

AUSTRALIA noted the need to categorize LMOs and identify risks related to eachcategory. He called for differential treatment of LMOs commensurate with the degree ofrisk that triggers the AIA. He outlined several principles for AIA, including: fullinformation for the importing country, which remains the final judge of risk assessment;efficiency to minimize costs and time delays; and consistency with the WTO. The EUunderscored experience obtained from international instruments regarding chemicals,pesticides and wastes. He called for flexible and differentiated AIA and notificationprocedures proportional to the risks involved, dependent on the characteristics andintended use of LMOs and the circumstances of transboundary movement.

SOUTH AFRICA noted that existing mechanisms should facilitate rather than determinethe formulation of AIA, which should be guided by environment, trade and human healthissues. He proposed that country positions on AIA procedures should be systematicallysolicited for consideration at the next BSWG meeting.

MALAYSIA underlined AIA as a priority and, supported by the REPUBLIC OFKOREA, highlighted precedents on Prior Informed Consent (PIC), which he equated withAIA, under the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements ofHazardous Waste and their Disposal. Intellectual property rights (IPR) should not runcounter to objectives of CBD Article 16.5. NORWAY broadened the definition ofmovement to include accidental release or unintentional spread of LMOs. TheMAHARISHI INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL OF NATURAL LAW PARTIES statedthat development of risk categories of LMOs is unrealistic.

The REPUBLIC OF KOREA called for information sharing on safety and potentialadverse effects as part of AIA. MOROCCO pointed out that the Basel Convention bansthe export of certain hazardous material, and that many developing countries lackfinancial resources for risk assessment and management (RAM). IRAN highlightedmonitoring and enforcement in a protocol, comparing biosafety to chemical safety. TheM.S. SWAMINATHAN RESEARCH FOUNDATION, later supported by the GREENINDUSTRY BIOTECHNOLOGY PLATFORM, highlighted the balance betweendisclosure of information for biosafety evaluation, and protection of intellectual propertyrights. He called AIA a priority.

The US called for information sharing on organisms raising “reasonable concern” overrisks to biodiversity, and for harmonization with the WTO. ZAIRE called for regulationof transshipment of LMOs. ARGENTINA stated that the Basel Convention may not beeasily adapted to a biosafety protocol format. He cautioned against impeding technologytransfer. BURKINA FASO stated that the exporting country should bear all liability foruse of LMOs in importing countries that had complied with protocol regulations.

SRI LANKA called for shared liability, suggesting green labeling initiatives as modelsfor import regulation. The SENIOR ADVISORY GROUP ON BIOTECHNOLGY(SAGB) proposed that nations identify focal points for notification and evaluation ofLMOs to be imported. NEW ZEALAND emphasized flexibility and harmonization withexisting regimes. JAMAICA, later supported by CAMEROON, called for clarification ofthe responsibility of countries used in transshipment of LMOs. INDONESIA stated thatthe “burden of proof” should lie with the exporter and highlighted liability andcompensation.

The THIRD WORLD NETWORK highlighted a case-by-case assessment of all LMOs.She identified specific guidelines on Prior Informed Consent (PIC) in the BaselConvention as a guide for practical implementation of AIA under the protocol.

The EDMONDS INSTITUTE cautioned against unintended movement. He called forcontinuous monitoring of all LMOs to detect adverse effects.

RELEVANT CATEGORIES OF LMOS: The Chair then asked for comments onrelevant categories of LMOs. This topic is relevant to risk assessment involving LMOs,as one approach to risk assessment management (RAM) is to elaborate risk categoriesbased on the nature of the LMO in question. However, this approach to RAM is notunanimous. There were no responses to the Chair’s call for comments on this topic.

OTHER CONSENSUS ELEMENTS OF THE MADRID MEETING: Themeeting next addressed other consensus elements agreed on at the Madrid Meeting,identified in paragraph 18(a) of Annex I to the report. BRAZIL noted that the Madridmeeting agreed to items within the context of a biosafety framework rather than protocol.BRAZIL, later supported by ARGENTINA, objected to the reference to research anddevelopment in a biosafety protocol, noting that this is a matter for domestic competence.SWITZERLAND noted that a protocol should not try to elaborate details on riskassessment and management but, rather, develop general principles, which already hadreceived support in international bodies such as the OECD.

The COUNCIL FOR RESPONSIBLE GENETICS noted that the effects of GMOs can betransboundary whether or not GMOs themselves move across borders. ARGENTINAnoted that although risk assessments may be made by third parties, their adoption remainsthe prerogative of the recipient country. He noted the need for capacity building andtraining to develop mechanisms must not be imposed in a protocol. The PHILIPPINESstated that although RAM falls primarily within the competence of national authorities,international mechanisms for risk assessment and management were needed and shouldremain open for negotiation. He further proposed that the protocol should containminimum standards for Environmental Impact Assessments of LMOs.

The EU stated that RAM should be based on sound scientific data and should includecharacteristics of LMOs and potential adverse effects on biodiversity, and characteristicsof intended application and of the recipient environment. He noted that mutualacceptability of data and authorization procedures between Parties should be pursued.The US noted that the UNEP Guidelines provide a useful source of general principlesregarding RAM. CANADA stated that the protocol should underscore nationalresponsibility for RAM without specifying its methodology. COSTA RICA highlightedthe need for local capacity to both conduct RAM and to benefit from biotechnologyproducts.

AUSTRALIA stated that provision of information on LMO exports remains theresponsibility of the exporting country, while final judgments based on RAM remain theresponsibility of the importing country, even though the latter may require assistance.Explaining that since unintended movement could not be covered under AIA procedures,he suggested that it could be addressed outside a protocol but within an overall biosafetyframework.

Regarding exchange of information, SWITZERLAND noted that the effectiveimplementation of the protocol and AIA procedures in particular would requiretransparent information exchange and proposed that data on transboundary movementsshould be included in the CBD’s Information Clearing-House Mechanism (CHM). In thisconnection, he proposed adopting language from CBD Article 19.4 on informationexchange. INDIA noted that LMOs are knowledge-intensive and that while most researchand development (R&D) arrangements focus on finished LMOs with application forsociety, we cannot belittle the importance of LMOs at the research stage. SRI LANKA,underscoring the importance of human health and welfare, called for social impactassessments in addition to EIAs.

The BIOTECHNOLOGY INDUSTRY ORGANIZATION underscored the experience ofthe industry community in successful research and development involving LMOs, andexpressed its willingness to make available its findings on biosafety and its regulation.The PHILIPPINES emphasized the importance of providing full information to thegeneral public and local communities. He noted the need to further develop CBD Article19.4 for the purposes of a protocol. BULGARIA called for information sharing on LMOsto raise the “comfort level” of importing countries.

TUNISIA highlighted RAM in a protocol. SWITZERLAND stated that capacity buildingshould precede implementation. KENYA linked information exchange with capacitybuilding, and called for public education. AUSTRALIA underlined responsibility of allParties to ensure safe transfer. The INTERNATIONAL SERVICE FOR THEACQUISITION OF AGRI-BIOTECH APPLICATIONS (ISAAA), supported bySUDAN and ETHIOPIA, suggested developing regional focal points in Africa forcapacity building and technology acquisition, stating that the former requires the latter.

The REPUBLIC OF KOREA called for a multilateral cooperative network forinformation exchange and human capacity building. MOROCCO linked RAM toinformation exchange. CTE D’IVOIRE called for a regional approach to implementinga protocol, to be complemented by national and local measures. The RUSSIANFEDERATION stated that existing channels for information exchange are sufficient, andcalled for capacity building for better utilization of these mechanisms.

NIGERIA recommended that the GEF should provide financial resources for the capacitybuilding provisions of the UNEP Guidelines. The Secretariat reported that the SBSTTA-2agenda includes capacity building for biosafety and the COP-3 agenda includes theUNEP Guidelines. He noted that COP-3 might recommend that the GEF support nationalimplementation of the Guidelines.

ETHIOPIA, on behalf of the African Group, called for the creation of national biosafetycommittees and international multidisciplinary bodies as well as for public participationin decision-making. He noted the need for arbitration and emergency global responseplans. The DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF KOREA cautioned againstcomplicated communication and coordination procedures that waste time and money.JAPAN stated its policy to avoid the establishment of any new international institutionsfor biosafety and underscored each country’s primary responsibility for implementation,while encouraging regional cooperation. SRI LANKA called for: an independentinternational authority with competence on biosafety; evaluation guidelines and acertification process for biosafety; and legal procedures and insurance schemes forliability and compensation.

NEW ZEALAND emphasized the importance of: flexibility through the full use ofannexes; capacity building for national focal points and strengthening of regionalcapacities; community consultation; existing institutions such as the CBD Secretariat andthe CHM as well as existing funding arrangements. CHINA called for a timetable andplan of work to guide future meetings of the BSWG. He underscored capacity building inbiotechnology particularly to meet food needs in light of predicted population growth.VIETNAM stated that the protocol should be based on the precautionary principle and acase-by-case approach.

MAURITIUS distinguished capacity building in biosafety from capacity building inbiotechnology, and called for reporting mechanisms on the export of LMOs and for CBDArticle 14 (environmental impact assessment) to be included in a protocol. The EUcautioned against creating new structures and recommended that the administration andfinancing of the protocol take place within existing CBD institutions. The UKunderscored the need to mobilize appropriate assistance for capacity building as essentialto the urgent implementation of the UNEP Guidelines during the development of theprotocol. He noted the Secretariat’s suggestion that the COP might recommend that theGEF fund capacity building for biosafety but encouraged “casting a wider net” by takinginto account national, bilateral and multilateral resources as well as organizations such asUNEP, UNDP and UNIDO who are active in this area.

INDIA called for provisions on liability and insurance as well as RAM and AIA. Shediscouraged the proliferation of new institutions and mechanisms. MALAWI underscoredthe importance of public awareness and personnel training for implementation. ThePHILIPPINES called for a thorough capacity building process to be instituted accordingto a specified timeframe. Explaining that the pace of LMO development exceedsdeveloping countries’ ability to control them, SUDAN highlighted capacity building ascritical to implementation. CAMEROON stated that information exchange requires thecapacity to understand biosafety issues.


The Working Group then turned to paragraph 18(b) of Annex I to the report of theMadrid meeting, which identified three non-consensus issues: socioeconomicconsiderations; liability and compensation; and financial issues.

JAPAN recorded its objection to including these issues in a protocol, recalling the termsof reference of the Group to negotiate a protocol with as many ratifications as possible.He suggested another forum for these issues. The Chair emphasized that this was adiscussion, not a negotiation.

SOCIOECONOMIC CONSIDERATIONS: MALAYSIA underscored thesocioeconomic impacts of biotechnology, including genetic erosion as well as religionand culture. His call for a Secretariat paper on this topic was supported by GHANA,MAURITIUS, SRI LANKA, the THIRD WORLD NETWORK and INDONESIA.GREENPEACE INTERNATIONAL noted that Bovine Growth Hormone, abiotechnology-derived product, had been rejected by the EU on socioeconomic grounds,emphasizing sovereign rights to reject GMOs with potential adverse effects.SWITZERLAND, supported by CANADA, stated that socioeconomic considerations areimportant, but called them national issues that are inappropriate for this forum.

GHANA stated that many developing countries lack biotechnology capacity and theability to assess risk. Including socioeconomic considerations, liability and compensationwill help to remove the element of fear over the unpredictability of LMOs. CANADArequested clarification from other delegations on socioeconomic considerations.ETHIOPIA emphasized societal issues in addition to health and environment.

MAURITIUS called the BSWG the right forum for addressing socioeconomic issues.POLAND stated that the socioeconomic effects should be the topic of separatenegotiations. NIGERIA supported discussion of socioeconomic issues, publicparticipation and contingency planning. The THIRD WORLD NETWORK stated thatsocioeconomic factors must be incorporated into risk assessment, which can beaccomplished in a timely manner. INDIA highlighted socioeconomic issues as well asrisk management utilizing insufficient data on long-term effects. AUSTRALIA and theEU acknowledged concern over socioeconomic effects, but underlined the limitedmandate of BSWG-1 to focus on transboundary movement.

BURKINA FASO proposed inviting experts on socioeconomic considerations to attendBSWG-2. INDONESIA highlighted socioeconomic issues in biotechnology regulation.VIETNAM emphasized socioeconomic considerations and proposed two categories ofRAM for LMOs with direct and indirect or long-term potential adverse effects.

MOROCCO underlined the right to refuse imports of LMOs perceived as socioeconomicrisks. KENYA recalled Article 14.2 (liability and compensation) of the CBD, stating thatthe COP had provided a mandate to examine liability and compensation. The G-77/CHINA emphasized that socioeconomic considerations are a concern of manydeveloping countries, and announced that a committee of technical experts drawn frommembers of the G-77 would be tabling specific proposals for inclusion in a protocol. TheDEMOCRATIC PEOPLES’ REPUBLIC OF KOREA agreed that socioeconomicconsiderations should be included in a protocol.

LIABILITY AND COMPENSATION: In introducing the subject of liability andcompensation, the Chair noted that it was clear that delegations were divided as to itsinclusion in the protocol. The GERMAN WORKING GROUP ON BIOSAFETYoutlined the key conclusions of a German Parliament report on biotechnology and geneticengineering, which found that only large farming operations might stand to benefit fromGMOs, while 75% of the developing world’s farmers, who are smallholders, would not.The report also stated that substitution of agricultural products in the North could lead toa substantial loss of income in the South, with a particular impact on women. IRANhighlighted the direct relationship between liability and implementation of the protocol,in particular RAM and AIA.

The EU cautioned against prejudging the COP’s consideration of this issue, but indicatedits willingness to engage in an open exchange on domestic legislation. The PHILIPPINESstated that liability should be addressed under both national and international law, andcalled for penalties and sanctions to be imposed in cases of violation. INDONESIArecommended that the Secretariat prepare a paper on liability and compensation, drawingon existing conventions, to be submitted to the BSWG. Explaining that many companiesin both importing and exporting countries do not “pay up” when liability claims are madeagainst them, he underscored the importance of insurance schemes.

FINANCIAL ISSUES: JAPAN stated that there was no need to establish anynew financial mechanisms for the implementation of the protocol, given existingmultilateral mechanisms such as the GEF. GHANA stated that the protocol needsguarantees on liability, socioeconomic and finance issues. He called for common groundbetween the fears of developing countries (biodiversity loss) and industrialized countries(financial loss). MAURITIUS questioned the appropriateness of the EU’s earlierintervention given the terms of reference of the BSWG to address all issues in Annex 2 ofthe Madrid document. Liability is the foundation of justice and legality, which are thebasis of any protocol.

TUNISIA noted that a financial mechanism already exists but that additional resourceswere required for capacity building. Recalling Article 8(g) of the CBD (risks associatedwith LMOs), he stated that the protocol must be considered an instrument forimplementation of the Convention. The EU stated that Article 20 of the CBD (financialprovisions) also applies to the protocol. IRAN called for new financial resources toaddress new dimensions introduced by the issue of biosafety.


On Wednesday, 24 July, the Chair introduced the issue of the structure of a futureprotocol by indicating that this was not a negotiation but a discussion on structure todetermine whether all relevant aspects have been addressed.

PROPOSALS: Several delegations tabled proposals on the structure of aprotocol, which are summarized below.

Vietnam: Vietnam proposed the following structure: Preamble; Scope;Definitions of key concepts and terms; General obligations; Designation of focal pointsand competent authorities; Transboundary movement of LMOs between Parties;Transboundary movement from a Party through States which are not Parties; Duty to re-import; Illegal traffic; International cooperation; Bilateral, regional and multilateralagreements; AIA; Consultations on liability and compensation; Arbitration; Financingaspects; Review of implementation by the COP; Amendments and annexes; Verification,ratification, and acceptance, formal confirmation or approval; Dispute settlements;Signature; Accession by non-Parties; Voting rights; Entry into force; Reservations anddeclarations; Withdrawal; Depository; and Authentic texts. The proposal also providesfor the following annexes: Identification of relevant categories of LMOs; Categories ofLMOs; Information for notification; Information on the transboundary document; andRAM.

EU: The EU proposed the following structure. Under Objectives: transboundarymovement of LMOs (intended and unintended); transboundary movement for thepurposes of contained use or deliberate release; and scope, including adverse effects onconservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. Under Operational Provisions: focalpoints and competent bodies; RAM; provisions for information exchange, notificationand AIA; monitoring and compliance; dispute settlement procedures; and mechanisms forbilateral agreements. Under Other Provisions: review, amendments and adaptation;relationship to multilateral agreements; and final clauses.

US: The US outlined a protocol structure, including the following basicelements: Preamble; Use of terms; Jurisdictional scope; Information sharing; AIA;Considerations for RAM; Capacity building; Institutional framework; Relationship withother international agreements; Dispute resolution; and Final clauses. He stated thatcountries should have the opportunity to make submissions addressing informationsharing, AIA, RAM, capacity building and the institutional framework before the nextmeeting, and that it is premature to develop the preamble and definitions until thesubstantive elements have been negotiated.

Norway: Norway outlined the following structure and main elements of aprotocol: Preamble; Objectives; Scope; Use of terms; AIA; Notification procedure; Riskassessment; Risk management; Emergency procedures; Minimal national standards onbiosafety, suggesting the UNEP Guidelines; Designation of competent authorities andnational focal points; Capacity building; Transport and packaging for transfer of LMOs;Technical information clearing-house; Liability; Monitoring and compliance; Financialissues; Relationship to other agreements; Subsidiary bodies under the protocol; Disputesettlement; Review, amendment and adaptation; and Final provisions.

Switzerland: Switzerland submitted a working paper on AIA procedures, whichthe Chair suggested be taken up at a later point by the Working Group.

Industry Group: The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), the JapanBioindustry Association (JBA), the Green Industry Biotechnology Platform (GIBIP), andthe Senior Advisory Group On Biotechnology (SAGB) outlined a combined industryperspective on a protocol. A protocol should be: science-based; directed to the productnot the process; sector-based; one that fully integrates mutual recognition of data; and onethat accepts the concept of substantial equivalence, meaning that the safety ofbiotechnology-derived products should be evaluated based on their properties, not on theprocess that produced them. He outlined the following structure: scope and definition;RAM; AIA; capacity building; mechanism for review; and relationship with otherinternational agreements.

On Thursday, 25 July, COSTA RICA, on behalf of the G-77/China, stated that the Groupcould not reach consensus during a long morning meeting to attempt to develop aproposal on the structure of a protocol. Two regional groups submitted separate proposalsinstead.

GRULAC: The Latin America and Caribbean Group tabled the followingproposal on the structure of a protocol: Preamble; Objectives/Scope; Definitions and useof terms; Designation of national competent authority and national focal point; Capacitybuilding; Procedures for information, notification and AIA; Mechanisms for riskassessment; Mechanisms for risk management; Handling, transport and transitrequirements for LMOs; Public awareness; Technical information network; Monitoringand compliance; Settlement of disputes; Financial mechanism; Relationship with otherinternational agreements; Institutional mechanism; and Final clauses.

Other Developing Countries: A group of 36 delegations comprised mainly ofAfrican countries and India, China, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, amongothers, tabled a proposal on the structure of a protocol that was identical to the GRULACproposal, with the addition of sections on Socioeconomic considerations and Liabilityand compensation, placed after the section on Procedures for information, notificationand AIA.

CONDENSED WORKING PAPER ON THE STRUCTURE OF A FUTUREPROTOCOL: At the Chair’s suggestion, the Working Group established a smallContact Group comprised of two members of each group of delegations that hadsubmitted proposals on the structure of a protocol. GREENPEACE INTERNATIONALappealed to the Contact Group, which was chaired by Rapporteur Alexander Golikov(Russian Federation), to include the concept of public participation, as an essentialelement of policy-making, in the structure of a future protocol.

The mandate for the Contact Group was to organize existing elements into a logicalorder, distinguishing items of consensus from those of contention. Noting that this wasnot a drafting or negotiating group, delegates agreed there was no need for regionalrepresentation. Nonetheless, the Eastern and Central European Group requested and wasgranted observer status.

The Contact Group met Thursday afternoon and into the evening. The results of theContact Group, which condensed the six proposals from delegations into one overallworking paper, were presented to the Working Group during the Closing Plenary onFriday morning, 26 July. The Working Paper on the structure of a future protocol iscomprised of three sections as follows:

Items included in all proposals: Title; Preamble; Use of terms/Definitions; AIA;Information sharing; Relationship with other international agreements; InstitutionalFramework for the functioning of a Protocol; Settlement of disputes; Amendment; andFinal clauses.

Items included in some but not all proposals: Objectives; Scope; Jurisdictionalscope; General obligations; Criteria to determine the use of AIA and/or notificationprocedures; Notification procedure; Considerations for RAM; Mechanisms for riskassessment; Mechanisms for risk management; Emergency procedures; Minimumnational standards on biosafety; Designation of competent authority and national focalpoint; Capacity building; Transport and packaging requirements for the transfer ofLMOs; Handling, transport and transit requirements for LMOS; Transboundarymovement between Parties; Transboundary movement from a Party through States whichare not Parties; Illegal traffic; Duty to re-import; Technical information network; Publicawareness; Clearing-house; Mechanisms for bilateral agreements; Liability/Liability andcompensation; Consultations on liability; Monitoring and compliance; Financial issues;Socioeconomic considerations; Review and adaptation; Signature; Accession; Right tovote; Entry into force; Reservations and declarations; Withdrawal; Depository; Authentictexts; and Annexes.

Terms proposed for definition: Living modified organisms; Transboundarymovement; Transfer; Safe transfer; Competent authority; Familiarity; Adverse effects;Contained use; Intended/deliberate release; Unintended release; Focal point; Riskassessment; Risk management; Modern biotechnology; Advance informedagreement/Prior informed consent; Minimum national standards; Liability; Biosafety;Limited field trial; Handling of LMOs; Use of LMOs; Centres of origin; Centres ofgenetic diversity; Compensation; Accidental release; Open environment; Open field trial;and Accidental.

ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA, on behalf of GRULAC, noted the difficulty of developingthe structure of a protocol, and he accepted the Working Paper. MAURITIUS, supportedby MOROCCO, underscored the need for clarity and transparency. In response to thesuggestion of BELARUS that the original proponents be specified alongside each itemand the suggestion of BURKINA FASO for an overall title for the document, the Chairnoted that the meeting had already agreed to accept the outcome of the Contact Group’swork and appealed to delegates not to reopen discussion. ETHIOPIA stated that thedocument was of limited value but was better than nothing. The Working Paper was thenformally adopted.

A coalition of NGOs, including ECOROPA, the EDMONDS INSTITUTE, THIRDWORLD NETWORK, INSTITUTE FOR AGRICULTURE AND TRADE POLICY,GERMAN WORKING GROUP ON BIOSAFETY, GREENPEACEINTERNATIONAL, US BIOSAFETY WORKING GROUP and the US NATIONALBIOSAFETY COUNCIL, stated that the Working Paper represented a “move back” fromthe Madrid meeting’s consensus on key elements and concerns. The NGO coalition also“deplored” the Working Paper’s omission of the precautionary principle and approach,and called for a moratorium on the release and marketing of genetically modifiedorganisms until a strong biosafety protocol was in place. This intervention was latersupported by MAURITIUS.


The Chair asked for additional comments before turning to the adoption of the Report ofthe Working Group.

AUSTRALIA asked for information on the existing international framework ofagreements related to biosafety, and on how the protocol would interact with these. Hesuggested that the Secretariat undertake a study of this, and offered to share the results ofa study his government is currently undertaking.

The EU reiterated that the definition of transboundary movement and of LMOs resultingfrom modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biodiversity are importantelements of a protocol. He also called for classification of LMOs into risk categories withvarying levels of risk management, and suggested these categories be elaborated in anannex to the protocol. While no scientific assessment has shown that LMOs will behaveidentically in all environments, risk can be estimated based on categories of environmentsand intended uses. He emphasized that the protocol should only cover risks to theenvironment, taking human health into account.

The FAO elaborated on several biosafety documents prepared or under preparation andrelated to use or modification of genetic resources. He offered FAO’s collaboration withthe CBD Secretariat on biosafety.

The EUROPEAN COMMUNITY elaborated upon: transboundary movement, which heclassified into intended and unintended movement; contained use of LMOs, which doesnot require additional administrative requirements; the definition of LMOs, which shouldreflect existing international definitions such as the UNEP or EU Guidelines; humanhealth and the environment; and RAM, which requires access to information.

MALAYSIA outlined a request for a paper on socioeconomic considerations for aprotocol. The paper should: classify LMOs and their products; examine the impact ondeveloping countries of substitution of agricultural products through biotechnology;examine the impact of biotechnology and IPR on access to landraces by farmers and onthe flow of royalties and other income; assess environmental impacts of release of LMOs,particularly in centres of origin/diversity; and examine the relationship between theseconsiderations and liability and compensation.


After some debate, the Working Group agreed to “focus the attention of COP-3” on thefollowing recommendations:

BUREAU: HUNGARY, on behalf of the Eastern and Central European Group,proposed the establishment of a permanent Bureau for BSWG comprised of ten members.JAPAN, TUNISIA and MOROCCO objected to a permanent Bureau and asked that theirviews be recorded in the report of this meeting. The Chair proposed that COP-3 considerwhether to establish a permanent Bureau for BSWG, given the importance of this issue tosome delegations, and that it be comprised of ten officers. This was accepted by theWorking Group.

FUTURE MEETINGS OF THE WORKING GROUP: Pending sufficient fundsand Secretariat assistance, delegates agreed to hold two five-day meetings in 1997,tentatively scheduled for 12-16 May and 13-17 October. MAURITIUS proposed holdingthe second meeting back-to-back with the SBSTTA or the COP to minimize costs. COP-3will determine the budget for 1997.


As a basis for their future work, the Working Group requested that the Secretariatcompile the three sets of background documents:

  • Content of a Protocol: A document containing the views of governments and the EC on the content of a future protocol, which would serve as the basis for the second meeting of the BSWG. Delegates agreed on a 31 December 1996 deadline for government submissions and an early March 1997 date for distribution of the document. Delegates also agreed that the Secretariat should prepare a document on agreed definitions of key concepts identified at BSWG-1.
  • International Instruments: A survey of international instruments addressing aspects of biosafety, to which governments would be invited to submit contributions. The additional resources required to undertake this work will be reflected in the proposed Secretariat budget submitted to COP-3.
  • Socioeconomic Considerations: A bibliography of relevant literature regarding both positive and negative potential socioeconomic effects of biotechnology. Delegates also agreed that governments would be invited to provide the Secretariat with information on existing studies on this matter.


The Working Group then adopted the report of the meeting (UNEP/CBD/BSWG/1/L.1and Add.1 and Add.2), a compilation of views expressed at BSWG-1 as well as the tworecommendations to COP-3. The report also identifies information required to guidefuture deliberations of the Working Group.

Delegates then listened to brief closing statements. A statement by Svend Auken, DanishMinister of Environment and Energy, was read out by the Deputy Minister, stating thatthe main objective of the Aarhus meeting — to contribute to a good start of a veryimportant but difficult negotiation process — had been carried out in a constructiveatmosphere.

The Chair of the Working Group, Veit Koester, thanked all delegations for heeding hisadvice to relax and work together in a cooperative spirit. He stated that his task had notbeen too difficult, and thanked everyone for helping to create a non-confrontationalatmosphere. Koester then adjourned BSWG-1 at 1:30 pm on Friday, 26 July 1996.


The first meeting of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety (BSWG-1) marksthe beginning of a process to develop a protocol under the Convention on BiologicalDiversity (CBD) and to operationalize one of its key — and most contentious —components. BSWG-1 got off to a cautious if predictable start in Aarhus. Whileunproductive in terms of written documentation, the meeting did reveal severalinteresting dichotomies, including strikingly divergent perspectives on biotechnology anda fracture in the G-77/China bloc, over elements to be included in the protocol. Themeeting firmly established the CBD among the roster of environmental treaties thatstraddle the realms of environment and trade. It set a precedent for transparency,welcoming NGOs into its deliberations. Finally, the meeting highlighted the issue ofliability, which some called the crux of the biosafety issue.

PRE-NEGOTIATION AND A CAUTIOUS START: Reflecting on hisexperience chairing many CBD negotiations, BSWG-1 Chair Veit Koester (Denmark),stated in his opening remarks, “Every meeting which starts a process is as important as ameeting which completes it.” Cognizant that compromises will later be conditioned onpositions developed during this early phase in the elaboration of a biosafety protocol, theChair exercised flexibility in entertaining a broad range of views. Indeed, the pre-negotiation phase consists mainly of identifying and defining issues as well asformulating positions. It can be argued that issue identification took place within theCBD itself, as Article 19.3 calls specifically for a biosafety protocol. Therefore, BSWG-1primarily represented a forum for articulating country and bloc positions.

At BSWG-1, governments identified the range of issues that the future biosafety protocolmight address. The shopping-list quality of the Working Paper on the structure of a futureprotocol did not contain the compromises characteristic of a bargaining process but ratherreflected the airing of views.

The Chair’s frequent requests for input on matters of substance were often met withsilence. Several delegates admitted privately that they had come to Aarhus primarily tolearn about the issue, and were not prepared to formally put forward their position.Indeed, many delegations did not have a negotiating mandate. It seemed that mostregional and political blocs required additional time to coordinate as caucuses metconstantly throughout the meeting.

Nevertheless, when it did come time for delegates to put words to paper, the ContactGroup whose job it was to combine proposals for the structure of a protocol spent anafternoon and part of an evening juxtaposing words for a non-negotiated working paper.The working paper amounted to no more than three short sections, organized into tenitems identified as included in all proposals, 38 items identified as included in some butnot all proposals, and 28 terms proposed for definition. Clearly, governments were notwilling to be cavalier over even these preliminary moves.

A FRACTURE IN THE BLOC: If the pace of pre-negotiations provedpredictable, even plodding, the split in the G-77/China position in Aarhus was surprising.As an engine for economic development, biotechnology is particularly attractive to somecountries, but a threat to others lacking the technical capacity to utilize it. Although it isclear that biotechnology is an issue that does not unite developing countries, the puzzlingresult of BSWG-1 is why certain delegations allowed these differences to fracture thebloc in the preliminary phase of this Working Group.

The biosafety issue potentiates the growing split between the middle income developingcountries (primarily in Latin America) and the least developed countries (primarily inAfrica). In this sense, it is another example of the gradual dissolution of the G-77 as amonolithic coalition, comprising over 130 countries with vastly different economicconditions. With GRULAC now openly disagreeing with the rest of the G-77 over theneed to include socioeconomic considerations and liability and compensation in aprotocol, the question on the minds of some leaving Aarhus is how this will affect thedynamics of future CBD meetings.

THE PROMISE, THE FEAR, AND THE SOCIOECONOMICS: Anotherstriking dichotomy (actually a trichotomy) in Aarhus was the manner in which thetechnology was perceived by delegates and observers. Many predictably touted thebenefits of biotechnology in such fields as medicine, environmentally-benign industrialprocesses and agriculture. Yet the perception that biotechnology involves uncontrolledexperimentation with dangerous LMOs remains powerful in the public psyche.

This wariness was plainly manifested during opening comments on the definition ofLiving Modified Organisms (LMOs). One African delegate, representing a countrywithout a biotechnology industry, cautioned that modern biotechnology was capable ofreviving ancient bacteria extinct for millions of years. This prompted a correction from aLatin American molecular biologist, who reminded the delegate that such feats are onlyaccomplished in Hollywood movies.

Listening to interventions on LMOs and their safe handling, transfer, use and disposal, itwas not clear whether delegates and observers had come to regulate an already complexand fecund activity, or to turn the meeting into a referendum on biotechnology. Africandelegations in particular emphasized repeatedly the dangers of biotechnology.Additionally, on the last day of the meeting a coalition of eight environmental NGOs,including Greenpeace International, called for a moratorium on the release and marketingof all genetically modified organisms and products until a biosafety protocol was inplace.

Reacting to this, one EU delegate stated privately that the call for a moratorium was toostrong, pointing out that, had such a moratorium existed thirteen years ago whenscientists first discovered the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, the world would not nowhave a series of multiple drug therapies just recently approved for treatment of AcquiredImmune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). The new treatments, which some have labeled apotential AIDS cure, would not have been possible without the commercial production ofLMOs and their products sold as research tools for biotechnology.

Amid the yeas and the nays, some delegates came with a third perception of the newtechnology, worrying about its socioeconomic impacts through agricultural substitution.This is probably the toughest issue of all. New food products developed throughbiotechnology have the potential to displace millions of agricultural jobs in developingcountry economies primarily dependent upon commodity exports. Many Northerngovernments took the position that socioeconomic considerations are issues of nationalconcern that should not enter into a protocol on biosafety. There is no simple answer tothis problem, breathtaking in its potential for global economic dislocation, although theCBD does allow “equity” to enter into decisions about resource use (CBD Article 1).

TRADE, ENVIRONMENT AND LIABILITY: The first meeting of the WorkingGroup marks a turning point in the balance of lobbyists attending the CBD and itssubsidiary bodies. This meeting saw a large contingent of industry organizationsrepresenting their considerable proprietary interest in these proceedings. As withmeetings of the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the balance of representationseemed more or less evenly split between industry and environment. The CBD is nowfirmly established among the roster of treaties linking trade to the environment.

Perhaps most worrying to industry is the inclusion of liability clauses in the protocol,favored by most developing countries (and Norway), opposed by some developingcountries and most developed ones. While the term “liability” is open to interpretation,many delegates and observers were left wondering aloud whether opposition to includingliability in the protocol meant that governments were unwilling to hold their industriesaccountable for failures to adequately test LMOs, particularly those intended for fieldrelease. Many questioned the effectiveness of a biosafety protocol lacking complianceincentives based on product liability.

PUBLIC PARTICIPATION: NGOs expressed satisfaction with their ability tomake interventions in the Plenary. This is in contrast to the closed proceedings of thebiosafety contact group that met at COP-2, which excluded all observers from all-nightnegotiating sessions on the mandate for a biosafety protocol. As always, the ongoingconcern for NGOs is the issue of transparency and public participation. While a goodprecedent was set at BSWG-1, it remains to be seen whether this openness will extend tofuture sessions, when the gloves come off and delegates get down to the real business ofnegotiating a protocol.

CONCLUSION: The negotiation of a global biosafety protocol augurs to beslow and painstaking. Some delegates recalled the workings of the biosafety protocolcontact group at COP-2, where negotiating blocs spent hours arguing over the placementof commas in the text. For this reason, the Working Group took a decision not to discussits work at the next meeting of the Conference of the Parties, in order to avoid anyunnecessary backtracking.

After almost ten years, the international community has come full circle on biosafety. Thecall for governments to negotiate a global protocol, which came in 1988 at the inceptionof negotiations that eventually led to the drafting of the Convention on BiologicalDiversity, has finally been answered.


FOURTH SESSION OF THE GLOBAL BIODIVERSITY FORUM: GBF4 willbe held from 31 August - 1 September 1996, immediately prior to SBSTTA-2, at thePalais des Congress, Montreal, Canada. GBF4 will focus on four themes: Marine andCoastal Biodiversity; Forests Biodiversity; New Methods for Linking People andProtected Areas; and Economic Incentives for Biodiversity Conservation. Forinformation on submitting abstracts or attending the forum contact: Jeffrey McNeely,Chief Scientist, GBF4 - Montreal, IUCN-The World Conservation Union, 28 RueMauverney, CH-1196 Gland, Switzerland. Tel: +41-22 999-0001; Fax: +41-22 999-0025; e-mail [email protected] Alternate contact: Tim Lash, Acting Director, GBF4-Montreal, IUCN Montreal, 380 St. Antoine Street West, Suite 3200, Montreal, Quebec,Canada H2Y 3X7. Tel: +1-514 287-9704; Fax: +1-514 287-9057; e-mail:<<[email protected]>>.

SUBSIDIARY BODY FOR SCIENTIFIC, TECHNICAL AND TECHNOLOGICALADVICE: SBSTTA will hold its second meeting in Montreal, Canada, from 2 - 6September 1996. Contact: CBD Secretariat, World Trade Center, 413 St. Jacques Street,Office 630, Montreal, Quebec H2Y 1N9, Canada; Tel: +1-514 288-2220; Fax +1-514288-6588; e-mail: <<[email protected]>>.

REGIONAL AND SUBREGIONAL MEETINGS: The CBD Secretariat iscurrently discussing preparations for Regional and Subregional Meetings, as provided forin Decision II/22 of COP-2, in order to assist in regional coordination for COP-3. Contactthe CBD Secretariat for more information as it becomes available.

UNEP-SPONSORED BIOSAFETY MEETING (TITLE TO BEANNOUNCED): A technical workshop on biosafety will be held the week beforeCOP-3 of the CBD in Buenos Aires, Argentina from 31 October - 1 November 1996.Contact: Hamdallah Zedan, UNEP Biodiversity Unit, Nairobi, Kenya; Fax +254-2 623926; e-mail: <<[email protected]>>.

FIFTH SESSION OF THE GLOBAL BIODIVERSITY FORUM: GBF5 isscheduled for the weekend before COP-3, from 2-3 November 1996 in Buenos Aires,Argentina. Contact Jeffrey McNeely, IUCN for more information.

THIRD CONFERENCE OF THE PARTIES: COP-3 will be held in BuenosAires, Argentina from 4-15 November 1996. Contact the CBD Secretariat for moreinformation.

FUTURE MEETINGS OF THE WORKING GROUP ON BIOSAFETY:Pending sufficient funds and Secretariat assistance, delegates proposed to hold two five-day meetings in 1997, tentatively scheduled for 12-16 May and 13-17 October. It is likelythat the dates and the locations will be finalized at COP-3.

Further information