Nagoya Meeting Spawns New Biosafety Treaty

25 October 2010

Officials from 116 countries have approved a new international treaty that establishes rules on how industry would be liable if imported living genetically modified organisms end up polluting ecosystems. But while the treaty has been held up by many as a symbol of success for multilateral environmental negotiation, critics raised concerns over the legal effectiveness of the pact and suggested the final text has been significantly watered down over the six year negotiating process.

The Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was finalised during an 11-15 October meeting that immediately preceded the Convention on Biological Diversity's Tenth Conference of the Parties (CBD COP 10) in Nagoya, Japan (see related story, this issue).

The Cartagena Protocol addresses the safe transfer (i.e., through transboundary trade), handling, and use of Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) that have the potential to adversely affect biodiversity - including human health. The Protocol sets procedures for the importation of GM organisms that are intended to be released into the environment. Cartagena entered into force on 11 September 2003.

By addressing liability and redress, the Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur treaty fills an important gap in the implementation of the Cartagena Protocol. The new Protocol is supplementary to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety which, in turn, is supplementary to the CBD.

Upon the adoption of the Protocol, Masayo Tanabu of host country Japan congratulated delegates and reminded delegates that any challenge can be overcome by the spirit of cooperation. Ahmed Djoghlaf, the CBD's Executive Secretary, lauded the cooperation between developed and developing countries at the meeting but cautioned that funding to implement the Secretariat's work was lacking.

The Secretariat's budget has grown slightly over the past two years and many observers say it does not have the funds to fully implement its mission. If funding is completely exhausted, developing countries will have to rely on donations from other members and donors to participate.

At the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, developed countries agreed to commit the financial resources to implement the Rio Conventions, which include climate change (UNFCCC), desertification (UNCCD), and biodiversity (CBD).

"There remain serious issues in need of priority consideration and urgent action," said Sebastian Marino of Palau, one of two officials representing Asia-Pacific countries. Marino said that before the Protocol can be successfully carried out, his region must address shortages in capacity building, financial resources, information exchange, and technology transfer.

"In addition, the Asia and Pacific group would like to highlight the equal importance of socio-economic considerations," Marino said, alluding to the right of developing countries to refuse to import GM products if they are perceived to damage the socio-economic well-being of the country or community into which it is being introduced.

This contentious issue has been difficult to overcome in the past, with some countries arguing that a socio-economic veto could, if abused, act as a barrier to trade. To overcome this issue, countries agreed to hold a series of workshops to discuss the issue. To this end, Norway pledged US$75,000 to help support the workshops.

The Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress will open for signatures at the UN headquarters at some point in March 2011. The treaty would then take effect 90 days after it has been ratified.

ICTSD Reporting; "Summary of the Fifth Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety," EARTH NEGOTIATIONS BULLETIN, 18 October 2010; "New Biosafety Treaty Faces Tough Tests Ahead," IPS, 16 October 2010; "Japan biodiversity meet adopts rules on GM crop damages," AFP, 16 October 2010.

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