Report of the AOSIS Workshop on the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and SIDS

2001-02-02 Samoa on behalf of AOSIS Download PDF

Topic: Sustainable Development

1. The first workshop of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) on the Cartagena
Protocol on Biosafety and Small Island Developing States was held in Saint Kitts and Nevis from 4 to 6 December, 2000, under the auspices of the Government of Saint Kitts and Nevis. It was organized by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) in cooperation with the Division for Sustainable Development of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA). The workshop was generously sponsored by the Governments of Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and The United Kingdom, with the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity providing substantial travel support to a number of participants.
Opening session 2. The opening session of the workshop, held on 4 December and chaired by Mr. Elvis
Newton, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health and Environment, Saint Kitts and Nevis, began with a blessing by the Reverend. Mr. Newton noted the importance of regional cooperation and introduced the Minister of Health and Environment of Saint Kitts and Nevis. His Excellency Dr. The Honorable Earl Asim Martin. The Minister expressed his pleasure at seeing so many participants from the Alliance of Small Island States and wished the participants a successful meeting. The Minister underscored the importance of AOSIS as the umbrella group of small island developing States (SIDS), and highlighted the need for SDS to work together on all issues such as biosafety, in an effort to develop common solutions and the maximize the opportunities to learn from each other. He requested participants to further explore these critical issues in the course of the workshop. He added that AOSIS must continue its active engagement in the various international processes, and that the group should build up its core expertise to assist its Member States in related negotiations at the internațional level.
3. He was followed by His Excellency Dr. John W. Ashe, Ambassador and Deputy
Permanent Representative of Antigua and Barbuda to the United Nations who spoke on behalf of the Chairman of AOSIS. He outlined some of the tasks that lay ahead for participants and stressed the importance of the cooperative spirit that has led AOSIS to make meaningful contributions to the international debate on sustainable development in general and biodiversity and biosafety in particular. He expressed the hope that the workshop would enhance the depth and knowledge of the issues for the participants and that they in turn would disseminate the knowledge gained to their colleagues who were unable to participate.
The Prime Minister of Saint Kitts and Nevis, His Excellency The Honorable Dr. Denzil Douglas delivered the feature address. The Prime Minister elaborated on his views on biotechnology, and reminded delegates of the long shadow that is cast by this new science, While public sensationalism may detract from the clear needs of
decision-makers, Governments have to keep the best interests of the people in mind. For this reason there is a great and urgent need for capacity building in Small Island Developing States as well as sharing of experiences. He was grateful that Saint Kitts and Nevis had been able to host the group, and officially opened the workshop. (The full statement by the Prime Minister will be available with the official documents)
Working Session 1 5. The session was chaired by Mr. Greg Sherley of the South Pacific Regional
Environment Program (SPREP). The Chairman made some introductory remarks as
to the purpose of the session, and then invited Mr. Espen Ronneberg, Inter-regional Advisor for Small Island Developing States (Division for Sustainable Development, United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs) to address the aims and objectives of the workshop.
Mr. Ronneberg introduced some of the background to SIDS concerns regarding biosafety, as well as some of the cooperative progress that had been made in the international arena by SIDS. He highlighted some of the basic premises for the cooperation that the Alliance of Small Island States has set out in the Barbados Program of Action, and the efforts that the SIDS Unit was seeking to implement in support of these concerns. He also spoke about the possibilities of using SIDSNet as a tool in the further development of AOSIS positions and discussion papers, and how this could become inter-linked with the CBD biosafety clearing house,
6. Ms. Kirsty McLean, Scientific and Technical Information Officer, Biosafety Unit,
Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), introduced the participants to an overview of the contents of the Cartagena Protocol and how its provisions established certain rights and obligations, the bases for which were UNCED, Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration and the CBD. She highlighted the need to negotiate how the Protocol would be implemented, and that the workplan for the Intergovernmental Committee for the Cartagena Protocol has set in train a progressive discussion of the different issues in preparation for the entry into force. The work had taken a lot of effort through the negotiations so far, and it was gratifying that one Small Island Developing State had already ratified (Trinidad and Tobago). Ms. Mclean enumerated some of the key elements of the Protocol, namely its objective and scope, the advance informed agreement (AIA) provisions, the risk assessment issues and the consideration of socio-economic issues. The Protocol covers transboundary movement, transit and handling, but it does not cover pharmaceutical LMOs for humans that are addressed by other relevant international agreements or organizations. Under the provisions of the Protocol, the need to have national focal points, and national competent authorities assigned was noted. For SIDS it would clearly be necessary to work on capacity building, training in risk management and assessment, as well as on the decision making procedures. Communication and regional cooperation would also have great importance for SIDS. She discussed briefly the different agenda items for ICCPI, and enumerated the documents that participants should familiarize themselves with. ICCP would work on developing the agenda and the decisions to be put forward as soon as the Protocol enters into force and the first meeting of the Parties takes place.
7. The Chairman opened the floor for questions and comments. Cuba, Mauritius, Nauru,
Fiji, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Jamaica made statements.
8. In the discussions the need to protect the special recognition given in the Protocol to
SDS was stressed. The support of the participants for a proposal to promote capacity building in SDS was also raised. The pilot project instituted by the GEF and UNEP was a welcome start that should be continued. It was explained further that the biosafety pilot project had been a start, and that the extension is indeed in the pipeline, and stated that the subject would be discussed in greater details later. The involvement of the AOSIS leadership in the work on the Biosafety Protocol was welcomed. While individual SIDS and SIDS regions had played a part in the work so far, it was noted that it is now necessary to consolidate the efforts of SDS as a group. The use of the terms GMO and LMO was discussed, since the terms are interchangeable. LMO was chosen early on in the negotiations as the term to use. National legislation would require to be changed in order to ratify the Protocol, so there would need to be some national implementing legislation.
Whether there would need to be any changes would be determined by national circumstances, but in most instances, some additions or changes to existing national laws could be expected.
9. Questions were also raised as to why the AIA was limited to the first shipment of a
particular LMO. It was explained that decisions made under this provision may be revisited in light of new information, but that for the time being such was the decision taken by the negotiations. The implications of not ratifying were discussed. All countries are at present open to introductions of LMOs, knowingly or not, so that the Protocol is the only recognized international protection available. Questions were raised about the apparent exclusion of feed, food and products (FFP) thereof, from the AIA process. For FFP there is a simplified procedure and not an outright exclusion. There may still be a need for domestic risk assessment of FFP, and decisions taken elsewhere on FFP would be disseminated through the BCH.
10. The implications of a failure to respond under the Protocol article 11, and the failure
to communicate approval does not imply consent. A follow-up question on liability and redress was answered to the effect that these issues would be on the agenda for future ICCP meetings.
11. Obligations of Parties were discussed, and in spite of the provisions for support, will
these be sufficient to assist the SIDS. It was stressed that much of that effort now lay with the negotiations at the ICCP. While numerous different expertise would be require for the complete implementation of the Protocol, there were clearly going to be gaps. Countries will have to start somewhere with the most immediate of their needs in terms of the implementation of the Protocol. This does not absolve countries from the total obligations, but consideration will be given to national circumstances and the ability to implement certain obligations.

12. Much information was gathered as a result of the UNEP-GEF pilot project, and
attempt had been made to introduce country-based systems to allow authorities to consult with their stakeholders, and to develop initial legislation for the safe use of LMOs. The project also looked at finding the current status of use, import and export of LMOs, at any existing legislation, and to set in train a process of informe decision-making at the national level. It is expected that further issues will be raised in the next phase, to enable countries to do other tasks related to risk assessment, such as epidemiological studies. Above all, the need to ratify the Protocol was stressed.
Working session 2
13. The session was chaired by H.E. Ambassador Dr. John W. Ashe of Antigua and
Barbuda. He invited Mr. Andrea Volentras, Legal Officer, SPREP, to make his presentation. After a brief introduction to the background of the Protocol, and the role of SPREP in environmental work in the Pacific, he spoke of the existing biosafety provisions to be found in the Pacific. In their consultations with the region SPREP discovered that there was no domestic biosafety legislation in place in any of the 14 independent Pacific Small Island Developing States. While Kiribati has legislation that mentions GMOs, this is raised in relation to development policies. Hence only an environmental impact assessment is required, and not the full AIA.
14. Mr. Volentras discussed the AIA provisions, as a stringent requirement applying only
to a subset of LMOs, but not to FFP. The shipment of commodities containing LMOs and the labeling requirements foreseen at the international level, leaves a lot of work to be accomplished at the national level if full biosafety is to be accomplished. He also mentioned the listing of rights and obligations to be found in ICCP/4, but that there remains a lot of areas in which the SIDS will require assistance to address biosafety issues.

The sheer lack of capacity will make it sensible to seek to synthesize the obligations and see what can perhaps be handled through regional cooperation. While we clearly could begin to appreciate the ranges of expertise needed, not all countries would be able to take on board many of these tasks.
15. In addressing national enabling activities, he stressed the need to involve all
stakeholders in the development of national biosafety legislation. There are also model legislation papers available, but given the different situations of the SIDS it seems unlikely that these will adequately cover our needs. As a starting point, delegates were invited to look at the model legislation developed by the 3rd World Network, bearing in mind this caveat. This may then enable the countries to see what issues they would have to consider for inclusion in any national legislation. However, there may be situations where one would have to build on some existing provisions such as quarantine acts.
16. Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Lucia, Jamaica, Fiji, Grenada and Antigua and Barbuda
made statements.
17. Participants discussed the obligations of other countries to observe your domestic * standards. It was noted as a developing area, as there was still very little experience with full observance of imports and exports into SDS. There are many considerations that will be dealt with in the negotiations, and many issues that will have to be decided at the national level, such as the degree of liability. The question of whether strict domestic regulations would contravene the Protocol was raised, but as the Cartagena Protocol is a consensus document, it was for this reason that all provisions sought by SIDS were not included. There is nothing to stop countries from seeking to address what they consider Protocol loopholes through domestic action. Whether this will cause conflicts under the WTO is another matter. Some were of the view that this could be particularly applied in cases where a developed country may dispute the veracity of the risk and impact assessment carried out by a Small Island Developing State. The need for a minimum requirements menu in the discussions was raised, and it was agreed that perhaps capacity building, information sharing and assistance for targeted assessments may be the highest priorities for SIDS. Since it is likely that imports of LMOs are already occurring, in terms of domestic legislation import processes should be looked at first, then quarantine and use, and later on for manufacturing and export of LMOs. It will take a lot of national efforts. It is widely recognized that this will be a very great task, and one has to begin somewhere. The functions of the Cartagena Protocol should therefore be seen in that light – as a part of a progressive regime that will evolve over time. The relationship of the Protocol to the legal regime that may have been put in place to implement the Convention on Biological Diversity was discussed. While these are separate legal instruments, the Protocol is clearly linked to the CBD. Domestic provisions for the CBD should in all
likelihood be brought into play in the implementation of the Protocol. For example, :countries may choose to use the same focal points.
18. Greg Sherley, Science Officer, SPREP, made a presentation on some of the scientific
considerations for SDS in relation to the Protocol. He echoed the sentiments expressed earlier in the day by the Prime Minister of Saint Kitts and Nevis, that biosafety casts a long shadow. In his view, this shadow may be somewhat sinister, but it is not as well-defined as we require. There is a longer term generation risk that we are unable to determine. Risk assessment is a process where science should be at the center. Yet after years of study it is difficult to really determine how nature’s cycles reinforce different phenomena. A clear statement of the cause and effect is not always possible.
In considering the whole issue of biosafety there is the additional complication of science and technology issues being brought into question by legal provisions. Nevertheless it is very important to consider the quality of the science when determining these risks. The methodology of quarantine risk assessment is well documented and researched. It can be helpful to SIDS when considering risks, but it is expensive and time consuming. Further complications arise from the interaction of biotechnology with areas outside of human activities, and risks to native ecosystems will be very difficult to fully assess. The need to ask all the right questions was a hard-learned lesson from the age of biological control. Because one will have to look at such a large range of possible consequences, research and assessment will be a major undertaking for SIDS. Regional cooperation has worked in many other instances and may be the way to go for biosafety. But in biosafety there is the disadvantage of the quality of scientific advice available. There is a tendency to rely on emerging “data-free reporting” and on information from the supplier. Independent advice is often non-existent. Protagonists for the technology are often involved in the promotion through such information sharing, which borders on being infomercials.
19. He questioned whether we are indeed able at this stage to really cover the range of
questions associated with the types of unwanted effects that could arise from an LMO release – general, direct, indirect, or transgenic effects. It is likely that SIDS will have to institute changes in management procedures for import and possibly exports. While the precautionary principle can be utilized, it remains difficult to really ascertain how organisms will act in low-density tests vis-à-vis actual releases, especially in situations where due to proprietary considerations you may not have full information on the LMO in the first place.
20. In closing he stressed the need for AOSIS to bring in some practitioners in the field of
risk assessment, and recommended that ERMA be invited to the next meeting.
21. Nauru, Mauritius, Tonga, Cook Islands, SPREP and UNEP made statements.
22. The discussions focused on the practical liability, since this is being put off by the
negotiations. As AOSIS Members have the most to lose, have few resources and fragile ecosystems, SIDS have all the right to press for greater in-depth discussion of the whole liability issue. The capacity in SIDS for risk assessment had been found by the presenter to be very poor, and the SIDS examined were ill equipped to carry out. The discussion also appeared to consider LMOs as particularly more dangerous than invasive species, and it was suggested that many parallels could be drawn to those experiences. Most agreed that there were parallels, but that public perception and/or ignorance, combined with a lack of capacity to even properly assess invasive species give cause enough for concern over LMO releases. The need for sufficient legal and technical training, and whether this would be available under the Protocol was discussed. Parties must prepare appropriate recommendations in order for the ICCP to progress those sorts of issues. It will be up to SIDS to press for their concerns in this regard. Model legislation would assist SIDS in dealing with the sort of scientific and technical issues raised in the presentation, but capacity building was viewed as a necessary pre-requisite before looking at the possible legislative issues. Needs assessments and consideration of the status of LMO in the various SIDS could also be a useful start.
23. Kirsty Mclean, CBD Secretariat, made a presentation on some of the issues before the
There are five main areas on the agenda for the Montpellier meeting: information sharing, capacity building, handling, compliance and decision making. Information sharing has been allocated to a working group, and there is high priority in setting the stage for launching the Biosafety Clearing House (BCH). Handling will be considered from the point of view of looking at existing relevant rules and regulations, standards and the modalities for developing new international standards. Capacity building will be discussed after consideration of an indicative list of needs. In this regard there will also be a roster of experts discussion, where there will be a
need to get the various balances sorted out. The decision making paper focuses on procedures applied in other treaties, and by some countries. The elements for compliance also look at existing procedures, such as CITES and the Basel Convention.
24. Dr. Julian Kinderlerer, Program Coordinator on Biosafety, UNEP-GEF Coordination
Office, United Nations Environment Program, presented some views on the terms of the Protocol and what countries will have to do. Having worked on the issue of biosafety since 1984 he had seen the problems that arose in Europe over LMOS, largely as a result of scare tactics. But when the polls show that over half the population is against the use of LMOs, then authorities have to take account of this. The attitudes are also different from region to region. It has been observed that while Europe may ask why do we need LMOs, the US may respond why not, and if anything goes wrong – sue me. In fact LMOs are being imported by most countries even today, for example soy beans or soy products from the US. Many questions need to be asked about these products, but the right to information is not so crystal clear. In a situation of imperfect information being available it becomes much more difficult to implement safety systems.
25. The precautionary principle is highly valued, yet it must be tempered by practical
considerations and not taken to its logical extremes. While risks assessment is acknowledged as requiring a sound scientific basis, it is not so clear that all the scientific tools and information is actually available. An example given is that of oil seed rape. There is little scientific knowledge about the plant and its interactions to begin with, so it is very difficult to do any comparative studies. As a scientific exercise it is not entirely feasible. While a developed country like the UK has had an advisory body on science to discuss risk assessments in an integrated manner, through ‘ inter-action between different scientific disciplines, this can not be duplicated by countries with small capacities. SIDS will be severely disadvantaged. It must therefore be possibilities made available for using collective expertise among the SIDS.
26. Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada and Antigua and Barbuda made statements.
27. Actual occurrences of trade disputes were discussed. The situation in the UK is that
the consumers are opposed, so the supermarkets are refusing to purchase LMO goods. This situation is no longer the responsibility of the Government, hence the WTO rules can not be applied punitively against the UK. There are legal protections available to countries that have not ratified the Protocol. While the Protocol does not prevent domestic legislation, clearly there has to be some international cooperation for smaller countries such as SIDS. This is likely to only be available through such mechanisms as the Protocol. Many felt that there had been an apparent shift in liability and responsibility to developing countries. While some operations have made new demands on developing countries, an example of tulip farming in Kenya under Netherlands auspices has benefited from an assumption by Netherlands of strict liability acceptance.

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Sub Topic: SDGs

Forum: GA

Meeting: GA55