This is a very important article. The New Zealand government has been claiming domestically that it didn't play a wrecking role in Montreal. This idea, they say, has been got up by their domestic opposition in concert with "NGOs" and it's based on "false information".

This article completely gives the lie to this claim. The agricultural correspondent of India's Financial Express, Ashok Sharma, was at the negotiations in Montreal and witnessed exactly what occurred.

As his article makes plain Brazil and New Zealand blocked "the birth of an effective global regime for disciplining transboundary movement, handling and packaging of living modified organisms (LMOs)". It was a proposal to which "all other countries had agreed to" and what occurred was a triumph, as Shamrma notes, of trade interests over bioisafety.

Ashok Sharma is an award winning journalist, widely respected by people on all sides of the GM debate and was in Montreal at the invitation of the pro-GM lobby group the Public Research and Regulation Initiative.

His account of what happened in Montreal agrees with all others we have seen with one exception - only the New Zealand government is disputing.

Brazil, New Zealand block LMOs proposal
June 06, 2005

MONTREAL, JUNE 5: Brazil and New Zealand were successful in blocking the birth of an effective global regime for disciplining transboundary movement, handling and packaging of living modified organisms (LMOs).

Trade interests prevailed over the biosafety concerns. The body of 119-member countries deliberating on this vital issue since the last five days could not arrive at a consensus till June 3, the last day of the Second Meeting of Parties (MOP/2) to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The last bid by Switzerland in form of a fresh non-paper draft package to restore the negotiation process failed. Even subsequent intervention by India proved ineffective.

Brazil and New Zealand could block the proposal to which all other countries had agreed to. Brazil, which has recently approved genetically modified (GM) soyabean for cultivation, thought that the proposal to discipline transbounday movements, handling and packaging of LMOs would go against its trade interests. New Zealand’s move was on expected line as it is a member of JUSCANZ (Japan-US-Canada-New Zealand) group. As per agreement, the specification of the identity of the LMOs should be completed within two years after the Protocol came into force in September 11, 2003.

As the MOP/2 was unable to decide on the issue, it was decided that this issue would be discussed at the Third Meeting of Parties (MOP/3) to Cartagena Protocol slated to held nine months later in Curitiba in Brazil. New Zealand wanted more "clarity in documentation process" while Brazil took the pretext, saying "more time is required to implement the process".

Thursday, a day before the the closure of MOP/2, saw high drama and hectic parleys. The chair of the Working Group-i, Birthe Ivars of Norway, unable to resolve the issue in the body asked the contact group to come to the rescue. Later a group of Five Interested Parties (FIPs) consisting of European Union, Malaysia, Ethiopia, Brazil and New Zealand was formed to rescue the situation. Nothing happened till past three hours past midnight.

On Saturday, when the deliberations resumed, Switzerland brought in a modified draft proposal, more softer in terms and the chair said "it may turn out to be a miracle". But it did not happen as such and was rejected.

Not that MOP/2 was a total failure. It adopted certain items like operation and activities of the biosafety clearing house, risk assessment and management (Art 15 & 16), capacity building activities, options for ensuring notification and accuracy of information by the exporter, socio-economic consideration (Art 26.1(a) and scientific and technical issues necessary for implementation of the Protocol. But the contentious issue of handling, transport, packaging and identification of LMOs as per Article 18.2(a) of the Protocol remained unresolved.

It was not expected that much progress would be made in formulating a global legally binding regime under Article 27 to redress the likely damages to be caused on account of transboundary movement of LMOs. In this context, the European Union had earlier intimated that it would ask for rules and procedures on liability and redress "in the form of a COP/MOP decision, whose subsequent evaluation may then be the basis for consideration of a legally binding instrument".

While the representatives of 119 governments were busy were busy working out certain globally binding rules on identification, documentation and procedures for import of export LMOs, the trade and industry were very much concerned. They were conspicuous by their presence on the MOP/2 venue.

The International Grain Trade Coalition (IGTC) and International Food & Agricultural Trade Policy Council (IPC) had said "the implementation of the Cartagena Protocol and the proposed liability regime will make imports costlier and cumbersome for poor countries". They said that trade in genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will suffer as the process of testing, sampling and setting up of infrastructure will incur a heavy cost.

The seed multinationals, engaged in developing transgenic technology, had come under one umbrella called - Global Industry Coalition (GIC) for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The GIC put up exhibits at the venue and had planned a number of side events to explain their case. They were even seen as explaining their case to country delegations. The GIC feels "progress of the industry will be hampered if a strict liability regime comes into existence."

Representing the other side of the view and expressing concerns for biosafety were the environmentalists and NGOs like the Greenpeace International, Friends of the Earth International, The Third World Network and farmers organisation from Canada, US and Ireland. The NGOs and the farmers' organisations were demanding a strict globally binding liability regime for redressing likely damages to be caused on account of transboundary movement of LMOs.

Making her remarks in the plenary session on the opening day of the conference, Akiko Frid of Greenpeace International said: "Imports of GM canola from Canada have contaminated canola fields in Japan. There is, therefore, a need to have a strict legally binding regime to redress the damages caused." Ms Frid also demonstrated how the GM seeds can be detected through a simple kit deviced for the purpose.

India nows heads the group of like minded megadiverse countries (LMMCs) and, therefore, has additional responsibility to ensure protection to 70% of world's biodiversity from genetic pollution. However, in the next year Brazil is likely to wear this mantle. A representative from Ethiopia had rightly questioned as to how the developing countries can depend upon the future role Brazil is slated to play as chair of MOP/3 and LMMCs, considering the present instances of its dithering on formulation of rules binding movements of LMOs.