No agreement reached on GMO trade protocol

Officials from 138 countries suspended talks in Cartagena, Columbia, this week after ten days of talks failed to produce a legally binding protocol on reducing risks related to the transboundary movement of living modified organisms (LMOs).

The international community is pursuing a biosafety protocol to ensure that living modified organisms are only transported into countries with their “advanced informed agreement”. Exporters would have to make sure that recipient countries had the opportunity and capacity to assess risks involving the creations of modern biotechnology.

The talks have stalled over a number of issues. In particular, governments disagree over the proposed scope of the treaty’s regulatory powers. Some want to restrict the definition of LMO to organisms intended for introduction into the environment. Others argue for a broader definition that would include agricultural commodities and products of LMOs.

Another contentious issue is liability: if LMOs enter the environment and cause damage, who pays? Also unresolved is how to minimize the potential socio-economic impacts, such as the competitive decline of traditional crops faced with LMO imports. Yet another unresolved question relates to the protocol’s relationship to the World Trade Organization and its various subsidiary agreements.

Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, Klaus Toepfer, said that progress had been made on capacity building in developing countries and on the exchange of information through a Biosafety clearing house. Toepfer is hopeful that governments will be able to adopt a protocol at a subsequent meeting.

“This is a very disappointing result. The world needs clear rules and procedures for transparency and safety in the trading of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) products, including those which are traded for processing in third countries,” said UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher.

“The UK and the EU had agreed a negotiating brief which would secure this, providing adequate protection for the environment. We need a consensus to emerge. It is now vital that the Parties reconvene again within the next 13 – 18 months to make a future attempt to conclude negotiations.”

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