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Trade debate heats up

Although it is the only international instrument that deals exclusively with LMOs (also commonly known as genetically modified organisms (GMOs)), the Cartagena Protocol runs in parallel with a number of international instruments and standard-setting processes that address different aspects of biosafety. These include the International Plant Protection Convention, the Codex Alimentarius
Commission and several World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements, such as the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and Technical Barriers to Trade Agreements. All these various international agreements are intended to guide implementation at the national or regional level and also be mutually complementary. However, improving coordination and avoiding potential conflicts remains a challenge (Box 2)

Box 2: GMOs generate international controversy

The request by the US, Canada and Argentina for a WTO panel against the EU concerning Measures Affecting the Approval and Marketing of Biotech Products (WT/DS291/23, 19 August 2003) can be regarded as an illustration of the potential conflict between these diverse approaches to biosafety. In this case, the three states allege that the EU de facto moratorium on the approval of LMOs or GMOs poses an unjustifiable trade barrier in violation of the WTO Agreements. The EU moratorium has been in place since June 1999, when the Danish, Greek, French, Italian and Luxembourg delegations, later joined by Austria, submitted a declaration urging the need for rules on labelling and traceability of GMOs and GMO-derived products stating that, until the adoption of such rules, in accordance with the preventive and precautionary approaches, they would take steps to have any new authorizations suspended. The European Commission described the request for the WTO panel as “legally unwarranted, economically unfounded and politically unhelpful,” arguing that the EU measures are justified under international law, citing the recently adopted Codex Alimentarius principles for risk analysis of genetically-modified foods and the precautionary approach provided for in the Cartagena Protocol. Civil society groups also attacked the decision to commence a trade dispute, accusing the countries concerned of trying to force genetically-modified foods onto European consumers

Source: ICTSD 2003

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