International GM trade hinges on right to refuse imports

As the Montreal meeting on the Biosafety Protocol drew to a close, final negotiations centred on how nations will be allowed to use the Precautionary Principle to refuse imports as well as legal wrangling over wording to ensure the Protocol isn't overruled by WTO.

Efforts to agree international rules to protect biodiversity from threats posed by the international trade of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) have been taking place in Montreal (see related story). As predicted, areas of contention have surrounded nations’ use of the precautionary principle when refusing a GMO import.

Reporting from the talks, Earth Negotiations Bulletin outlined the two options that negotiators had set out by Thursday 27 January. The first states that importing nations may be required to take a decision regarding whether to approve an import “even in the absence of scientific certainty”. The second option offers a slight variation, stating that a lack of “scientific certainty shall not prevent [an importing nation] from taking a decision”.

Whatever is decided, the right to use the precautionary principle to protect biodiversity from GMOs will be a victory for the EU negotiators who have long insisted that the principle’s inclusion in the Protocol is essential.

Less progress had been made by Thursday on the exact wording that will be necessary to ensure the sovereignty of the Biosafety Protocol. Whether the Protocol will be declared “mutually supportive” with other international agreements or whether it will be deemed “compatible” is the question. According to Earth Negotiations Bulletin, a provision was created – but not fully agreed – that stated negotiators’ intention “not to create a hierarchy with other international agreements”.

See the UK section of this edition of edie news to read about UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher’s views on the Biosafety Protocol priorities.

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