An introduction to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
After more than five years of difficult negotiations, delegates representing 133 governments have adopted in Montreal the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in the early morning hours of 29 January 2000. The Protocol was adopted at the resumed session of the Extraordinary Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (ExCOP) and is a supplementary agreement to the Convention.
The Protocol entered into force on 11 September 2003, ninety days after receipt of the 50th instrument of ratification.
The Protocol seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology. It addresses the transfer of LMOs from one country to another through an Advance Informed Agreement (AIA) procedure for ensuring that countries are provided with the information necessary to make informed decisions before agreeing to the import of such organisms into their territory. It also establishes an alternative procedure for LMO commodities (LMOs intended for direct use as food or feed, or for processing).
It contains other provisions on types of information to be provided, scientifically-based risk assessment, simplified procedures, exchange of information, handling of confidential information, public awareness and participation, capacity building for developing countries, financial resources as well as other points on accompanying documentation, liability and redress and socio-economic considerations.
The final agreement reached in Montreal reflects a remarkable compromise and has the potential to break new ground in a number of areas. For example, it enshrines the "precautionary approach" as a principle of international environmental law and puts environment on a par with trade-related issues in the international area.
The Biosafety Clearing-House
Article 20 of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety establishes a Biosafety Clearing-House (BCH) as part of the Clearing-house Mechanism under Article 18, paragraph 3, of the Convention on Biological Diversity, in order to facilitate the exchange of scientific, technical, environmental and legal information on, and experience with, living modified organisms; and to assist Parties to implement the Protocol, taking into account the special needs of developing country Parties, in particular the least developed and small island developing States among them, and countries with economies in transition as well as countries that are centres of origin and centres of genetic diversity.
On 29 January 2000, the Conference of the Parties adopted decision EM-I/3, which, inter alia, requested the Executive Secretary to commence preparatory work on the functioning of the Biosafety Clearing-House.
One of the follow-up of decision EM-I/3 was the organisation, from 11 to 13 September 2000 in Montreal, of a meeting of technical experts on the Biosafety Clearing-House. Experts were drawn from a roster of Government-nominated experts, qualified in the fields of management of biosafety-related issues, information-sharing systems and database-management, establishment of clearing houses and/or the clearing-house mechanism of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Belgium was represented by Dr Didier Breyer.
The conclusions and recommendations of the meeting of technical experts on the Biosafety Clearing-House were considered by the Intergovernmental Committee for the Cartagena Protocol (ICCP) at its first meeting in Montpellier, 11-15 December 2000. A number of recommendations adopted at this first meeting request action from Parties and Governments on the issue of information-sharing. In particular, the ICCP encouraged governments with national databases to facilitate the establishment of linkages to the BCH. The ICCP also mandated its Bureau to provide management oversight of the development and implementation of the pilot phase of the BCH and to draw upon appropriate technical advisory expertise to facilitate this development and implementation.
In order to assist the Bureau, the Executive Secretary convened a Liaison Group Meeting of Technical Experts on the Biosafety Clearing-House, which was held in Montreal from 19 to 20 March 2001, to provide advice on technical issues associated with the implementation of the pilot phase of the BCH. A second meeting of the Liaison Group of Technical Experts was held back-to-back with the second meeting of the ICCP in Nairobi on 27-28 September 2001.
At its second meeting, the ICCP urged Governments to nominate national BCH focal points and to participate actively in the pilot phase. Recommendations for the further development of the Pilot Phase were made in the Second Note from the Bureau on technical issues associated with the implementation of the Pilot Phase of the Biosafety Clearing-House.
At its third meeting, ICCP emphasized the need for the pilot phase of the BCH to be fully functional and accessible by the time of entry into force of the Protocol and for countries to have the necessary capacities. It called for active participation by all Governments in the pilot phase and for its further development and for more regional activities and tools to assist countries to develop national databases interoperable with the BCH. ICCP also noted that the future development of the pilot phase will be undertaken in accordance with the Third Note from the Bureau on technical issues associated with the implementation of the pilot phase.
Decision BS-I/4 of the First Meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol (MOP-1) adopted the transition of the pilot phase of the BCH to the fully operational phase, as well as the modalities of operation of the Biosafety Clearing-House. Parties, governments and other users are encouraged to develop national, regional, sub-regional and institutional nodes that are interlinked with the Central Portal.