Select Committee on European Communities Second Report

International 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[98] 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[99]. 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"[100] 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

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