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US, CANADA, JAPAN ATTEMPT TO USE WTO TO DILUTE/BLOCK BIOSAFETY MEASURES

(TWN information on WTO negotiations for Seattle - 21 October 1999)


Dear friends and colleagues,

The Centre for International Environmental Law has produced a Discussion Paper on the implications of proposals to consider trade in GMOs at the WTO. It has been just written by Matthew Stilwell, managing attorney at CIEL.

With Matthew's permission, we are helping to distribute the paper, which raises important points that should be taken note of urgently.

As part of the WTO's process for preparing for Seattle, Canada and Japan have put forward proposals that the Ministers at Seattle decide to set up a new working group in the WTO to deal with GMOs and biotechnology. Canada (in its paper WT/GC/W/359 dated 12 Oct 99) proposes a "working party on biotechnology", Japan (in its paper WT/GC/W/365 dated 12 Oct 99) calls it "examination group for new issues including GMOs".

Meanwhile, the United States (in its paper WT/GC/W/288 dated 4 Aug 99) in the context of future agriculture negotiations, has proposed to address WTO disciplines "to ensure trade in agricultural biotechnology products is based on transparent, predictable and timely processes."

As the CIEL paper points out, the aim of these proposals is to further constrain the ability of importing countries to regulate GMO products. (See especially Part III.D of the paper).

Part IV.3 of the paper also points out, that there is also a danger that the proposals may adversely affect the Biosafety Protocol negotiations and final outcome, by: (1) the argument that the protocol should be delayed until the Working Party in the WTO takes decisions; (2) WTO disciplines (existing or new) could be used to further reduce the protocol's SCOPE; (3) WTO discussions could be used to weaken the protocol's PROVISIONS; (4) new "science-based" disciplines may be promoted by these countries in the WTO which may then be used to counter the biosafety protocol's use of the precautionary principle; (5) affecting and changing the negotiating dynamic; (6) increase the likelihood of using the "uncertainty" of WTO rules (this has already been used by a few countries) to undercut the protocol.

The paper concludes (see Part V.A) that the existing rules in WTO are sufficient to deal with GMO and biotechnology products, and that the proposals to negotiate additional disciplines should not be accepted. (This implies that the Canada and Japan proposals to establish a WTO working group on biotechnology or GMOs should not be accepted, and that the US proposal to address disciplines to ensure trade in biotech products is "transparent, predictable and timely" should similarly not be accepted). There are several other recommendations in Part V.

FOR YOUR INFORMATION, THE PROPOSALS HAVE BEEN INCLUDED IN THE LATEST SEATTLE MINISTERIAL TEXT (DATED 19 OCT), IN 2 PLACES.

(i) There is a Para 71 entitled "Working Party on Biotechnology" which states: "We agree to establish a Working Party on Biotechnology. The Working Party shall have a fact-finding mandate to consider the adequacy and effectiveness of existing rules as well as the capacity of WTO members to implement these rules. It is appropriate for this Group to deliberate wiithin an X period of time.

This whole para is within square brackets, meaning that there is no consensus at present to set up such a Working Party, nor on the mandate etc. Thus the whole para is open for negotiation (which will be done in the next two weeks).

(ii) In the draft Declaration's section on Agriculture, there is a Para 29 (vi) on improving the rules and disciplines (of the WTO). Under this section are listed various proposals. One of the proposals is: "Disciplines to ensure that trade in products of agricultural biotechnology is based on transparent, predictable and timely processes." The language is simliar to the US proposal.

The negotiations in Geneva are now going full steam ahead. Those who would like to influence the process by making your position known, should do so as soon as possible. It would be more effective to make your comments in reference to the proposals in para 71 and para 29 (vi) of the draft Seattle Ministerial Declaration referred to above.

With best wishes,

Martin Khor
Third World Network
mkhor@igc.apc.org

PS. Many thanks are due to Matthew Stilwell and CIEL for the paper, and for allowing it to be circulated. Permission to re-circulate or to use it should be obtained from Matthew at cielms@igc.apc.org.

Click here for the CIEL Discussion Paper

 


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