COP-6 Adopts Guiding Principles on Alien Species

2 May 2002

COP-6 adopts guiding principles on alien species

Delegates at the Sixth Conference of the Parties (COP-6) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) on 7-19 April in The Hague, The Netherlands, adopted 15 Guiding Principles for the prevention, introduction and mitigation of the impacts of alien species that threaten ecosystems, habitats or species despite a last-minute objection by Australia based on concerns that the principles might allow countries to avoid obligations under trade agreements.

In the final Plenary, Australia announced its decision that it could not support the Principles due to concerns that the ambiguous language on the precautionary approach (Principles 1 and 10) and references to socio-economic and cultural considerations in the context of risk management (Footnote vii) might result in conflicts with obligations under trade agreements. In particular, Australia expressed concern that these references could provide a cover for countries to implement measures that were inconsistent with the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS).

Throughout the negotiations of the Guidelines, Australia -- supported by Argentina, Canada and to a limited extent the US -- had emphasised the need for science-based rules that were consistent with the SPS Agreement, and had supported specific references to the SPS Agreement and to the international standard-setting bodies recognised in the Agreement (see related story on Codex, this issue). The countries had also raised trade concerns in the context of Principle 7 dealing with measures to prevent unintentional introduction of alien species, which they feared might be used to implement measures that constituted disguised trade barriers. Others, however, including the EU, stressed that the economic cost of not restricting potentially invasive alien species might be much greater than the possible loss in trade revenue.

One source pointed out that Australia's position was a good example of the apparent disconnectedness between the threats that countries are facing and their position in international negotiations, referring to the significant threats to Australia's ecosystems resulting from invasive alien species. Another observer speculated that the apparently inconsistent view might be due to the involvement of different agencies, adding that Australia had contacted three different Ministries during the final negotiations.

After delegates failed to resolve the issue in the plenary and in informal consultations, COP-6 President Geke Faber, supported by the two Working Group Chairs, adopted the Decision as originally presented to the Plenary "on the basis of past practice" with a note in the report on the objections. This led Australia to again raise its formal objection to the Decision and make reservations regarding the decision- making process. While supported the adoption of the Principles, several expressed concern regarding the decision-making process. The Principles, inter alia, recommend measures to prevent the spread of invasive alien species, with an emphasis on the least expensive and most effective measures, including border controls, quarantine measures, information exchange and capacity building. Also, recipient countries should have the opportunity to provide prior authorisation before the first intentional introduction of potentially invasive alien species.

The next meeting of the COP will take place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in the first quarter of 2004.


In the multilateral trade system, measures to control the spread of alien species are generally covered by the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS), which acknowledges the right of Members to take SPS measures necessary for the protection of human, animal or plant life or health. Regarding precaution, the SPS Agreement states that in cases where relevant scientific evidence is insufficient, Members may provisionally adopt health-related measures on the basis of available pertinent information. In such circumstances, however, the SPS Agreement obligates Members to undertake a risk assessment within a reasonable period of time.

Additional Resources

The Guiding Principles and other documents adopted at COP-6 will be available on the CBD website shortly. For daily coverage and an analysis of COP-6, see IISD Linkages.

ENB Vol. 9 No. 239, 22 April 2002; ICTSD Internal Files.

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