Good progress at global GMO trade talks

"Congenial" atmosphere as countries begin talks on implementing Cartagena biosafety protocol

A "congenial" atmosphere was in evidence last week as representatives from more than 80 countries met in Montpellier, France, to begin developing detailed rules that will govern the international movement of live genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The cooperative mood was all the more welcome because it took almost four years and some heated arguments to negotiate the Cartagena protocol to the 1992 UN biodiversity convention, which was finalised early this year (ENDS Daily 31 January).

Last week's first meeting of the intergovernmental committee for the Cartagena protocol (ICCP1) ended with exclamations of satisfaction from all sides, including industry and environmental NGO representatives. Discussions were held on information sharing, GMO traceability, packaging, handling and transport, national capacity building and formation of an expert advisory group.

Fastest progress was made in the area of information sharing. A pilot biosafety clearinghouse that will allow countries to access up-to-date lists of GMOs and details of national policies and regulations is to launch imminently. Decisions on other areas under discussion were postponed until next year's meeting, planned for October in Montreal, Canada.

Delegates frequently expressed the need to assess how countries have thus far dealt with, or failed to deal with, trade in GMOs before decisions on how to proceed can be taken. As a result, inter-sessional efforts will focus on gathering such information to enable further progress next October.

Despite the positive outcome, Earth Negotiations Bulletin reported that as the week wore on, there was "an increasing realisation ...that much work was needed to prepare countries and the secretariat for the protocol's entry into force". Bulgaria and Trinidad & Tobago are the only two countries to have ratified it. Ratification by 50 countries is required for the protocol to enter into force. Several environmental NGOs have called on governments to impose moratoriums on trade in GMOs until the protocol is in force, emphasising in particular the need for a system of traceability.

Follow Up:
UN environment programme, tel: +41 22 917 1234; meeting website; Earth Negotiations Bulletin summary of the talks; OECD database of national GMO legislation and regulation.

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