At the end of a web of intense diplomatic effort and which contained some moments of tension, the countries signed up to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosecurity reached a position of consensus on Friday night (17th) which should unblock the implementation process of regulations for the identification of loads containing Genetically Modified Living Organisms (GMLOs), better known as transgenic products.

The agreement reached establishes that the expression “contains GMLOs” should be adopted immediately for those cases where tracking, segregation and identification of transgenic products is possible, and the expression “might contain GMLOs” for other cases, which will have a deadline of six years to adapt to the new regulations. The two systems have to coexist, even sharing the predicted date for the contents to be definitively adopted.

If it is taken into account that since the first Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosecurity (MOP-1), held in 2004, that discussion was blocked due to the different positions among countries, the agreement reached at the MOP-3, which was held this web in Curitiba, represents without doubt, a victory. Countries which at the beginning of the event defended the “might contain”, such as New Zealand, Colombia, Peru and Paraguay, were some of the few convinced by other parties and supported the agreement. It was necessary to overcome the strong resistance of Mexico so that the required consensus could be reached, a country which ended winning a concession that represents a danger to the Protocol for opening a split in the flexibility of its regulations.

After beginning with strong support for “contains”, the Mexican government managed to have included an amendment that eliminates the need for obligatory identification of loads containing transgenic products, in cases of bilateral trade between a country signed up to the Protocol and a country which is not. This concession, rejected by the Brazilian government until the final moment, was made to assist in the case of Mexico, which annually exports millions dollars of grain to its neighbour the United States, a country which is not signed up to the Protocol and one of the main opponents to the establishment of clear international regulations for the identification of transgenic products. The problem is that the new regulation, created at the request of Mexico, could be used by any other signed up country, which opens a split that the “sharks” of international trade who do not support the Protocol (UAE, Australia and Canada among others), could use to force poorer countries to establish bilateral agreements that make a mockery of the regulations.

Despite this risk, the majority of the representatives of the various governments present at the MOP-3, received the agreement as a historic advance. Brazil’s diplomatic effort was also recognised, in the end it was the country which, on the first day of the event, presented the initial proposal (“contains” immediately wherever possible and “might contain” to be adopted within four years by all other cases), that enabled the discussion to take place and advance, as well as being one of the presidents of the Contact Group that searched for consensus. The Brazilian Minister for the Environment, Marina Silva, welcomed the result of the MOP: “Today we have taken decisions of great impact for the Cartagena Protocol and we move forward in the mission to implement one of the most important instruments created at the Rio/Eco 92 Earth Summit. The stance taken by Brazil contributed to the overcoming of the problem and the reaching of this meaningful advance”, she said.

Marina criticised the Mexican position indirectly, which made the discussions go on until the 23rd hour of the last day at the MOP-3: “We are sorry that the texts previously prepared by the Contact Group have not reached agreement”, said the minister. She reiterated that from now on it is necessary for conditions to be created in which the poorest countries will be able to meet the stages that lead to the definitive adoption of “contains”: “I recognise the needs (of ability) of developing countries above all Latin countries here who support the motion. The MOP-3 gave explicit authorisation to the Executive Secretary of the Protocol, to put in place a fund that can make resources available for developing countries”, she said.

Calculated risk

The Head of the Department of Special Topics of the Ministry of Foreign Relations and the coordinator of the Brazilian negotiating team at the MOP-3, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, considered as “historic” the agreement reached in Curitiba: “We have made extraordinary progress that reinforces the Cartagena Protocol and which gives all parties a clear indication to the definitive adoption of “contains GMLOs”, he stated. Figueiredo admitted that the concession made to Mexico represented a split, but claimed that he did not believe that it would be used by rich countries to make international agreements on biosecurity obsolete: “I do not consider that the countries signed up will give in to possible pressures, because here in Curitiba it has been made clear that all of them are determined to be guided by the principles of the Protocol”, he said.

In the opinion of the Director of the Conservation of Biodiversity from the Ministry of Environment, Braulio Dias, taking on the risk of accepting the Mexican demand was the only way to move the negotiations forward on the identification of loads containing transgenic products: “It is true that the risk is there, but we would be in a much worse position if the matter stayed in the MOP-3 indefinitely. That would allow those countries which do not wish the implementation of the Protocol to make progress, to prolong the deadline of the transitional regulations”, he stated. Dias guaranteed that the support of the progress of the discussions had been consolidated on the international stage: “Developing countries, such as those in Africa, want to increase their exports. The richest countries, such as those in the European Union are more interested in the preservation of human health. Brazil has a foot in each camp”, he said.

Mop every Two-years

The MOP in Curitiba was the last to be held annually. By recommendation of the Executive Secretary of the Cartagena Protocol, from now on the meetings of the parties will happen every two years. Therefore, MOP-4 will be held in 2008 and so on. The agreement that extended the adoption deadline by four years, initially proposed by Brazil for the adoption of “contains”, appeared in that resolution and established MOP-5 (2010) as the moment of verification of results obtained by that date and MOP-6 (2012), for the definitive adoption of identification regulations that will allow countries and their peoples to know for sure what they are consuming.

Translation: Edward Tully

Carta Maior (Brasil)
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