requirements for the movement of GMOs between countries
49. Uniform regulatory standards for the movement
of GMOs between countries are seen as a primary concern, mainly
to ensure that trade barriers are not used as a means of arbitrary
discrimination and covert protectionism. The 1996 UNEP guidelines
were, at United Kingdom instigation, an attempt to provide an
internationally agreed minimum standard for the safe use of GMOs.
Different safety standards may act, or be used, as barriers to
trade and the GATT treaties require that the World Trade Organisation
accept only "valid" scientific reasons before products
can be prevented from entering the market in member countries.
This raises the question of what constitutes a valid concern and
by whom it should be judged.
50. Discussions are currently in progress on
a biosafety protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
This protocol is expected to be agreed by a special conference
of the parties to the Convention early in 1999. It seeks to regulate
the cross-boundary movement of "living modified organisms"
resulting from modern biotechnology. The protocol may succeed
in providing a common definition of a "living modified organism"
and a workable system of "advanced informed consent"
which would require the exporting country to provide the necessary
safety information to the importing country.
98 United Nations Environmental Programme International
Technical Guidelines for Safety in Biotechnology, 1996. Back
99 The Convention on Biological Diversity (Rio de Janeiro, 1992)
(Cm 2127) is a binding agreement signed by over 170 countries
(though not ratified by the United States). It came into force
on 29 December 1993 (DETR pp 190-1). The Convention has three
key objectives: (i) the conservation of biological diversity;
(ii) the sustainable use of this diversity; and (iii) the fair
and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation
of the genetic resources. Article 19 Paragraph 2 of the Convention
requires the parties to the Convention to "consider the need
for and modalities of a protocol setting out appropriate procedures,
including in particular, advance informed agreement, in the field
of the safe transfer, handling and use of any living modified
organism resulting from biotechnology that may have adverse effect
on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity". Back
100 Products derived from but not containing a viable organism are
not likely to be within the scope of the protocol. Back