NGOs get first red, then green light on CBD talks

by Someshwar Singh

Geneva, Sep 1 -- The secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), reacting to complaints from the hundreds of NGOs, has agreed to allow NGOs to participate partially in the upcoming biosafety talks to be held in Vienna.

To start with, the CBD secretariat appears to have kept NGOs out of the planned five-day Vienna meeting (15-19 September, 1999) -- "Informal consultations for the preparation of the resumed session of the first extraordinary meeting of the Conference of Parties for the adoption of the Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity (ExCOP)."

The pressure on governments to negotiate a biosafety protocol under the CBD has come, before and after the conclusion of the CBD, from non-government organizations, and many Third World countries have been using their expertise in these matters. The presence and active participation of the NGOs, and their support to the demand of the developing countries for a protocol, has however proved irksome to some of the Industrialized countries, and particularly the Miami group led by the United States, which is itself only an observer.

But the initial exclusion of NGOs, prompted a massive signature campaign by NGOs from around the world, led by Beth Burrows of the Edmonds Institute (USA) and the Gurdial Singh Nijar of the Third World Network (Malaysia).

Stung by criticisms of "closed-door" policies and of holding regular consultations, with power to negotiate, under the guise of 'informal consultations', the CBD agreed to extend its invitation to the NGO community as well for the Vienna meeting.

However, the NGOs are still to remain out of the final two days of the meeting. "This would mean that only government representatives can be present and only the designated spokesperson from the five Groups will be making interventions,' says the CBD invitation.

According to the proposed format for these informal consultations, the first two days would be devoted to consultations within the Groups that emerged from Extraordinary meeting of the COP in Cartagena, Colombia, namely, the Miami Group, the European union, the Central and Eastern European Countries, the Compromise Group, and the like/Minded Group of Countries.

The third day would be set aside for informal exchanges between the Groups, while the last two days would be 'informal consultations involving all Groups aiming at clarifying differences on the pending core and related issues in the draft protocol and, insofar as is possible, reaching understanding on possible solutions to key outstanding issues.'

For NGOs who finally make it to the Vienna meeting, the CBD plans to arrange periodic briefings for them on the consultations. (SUNS4501)

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) .

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