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Biosafety Protocol A Good Balance - Minister

Media Release
Hon Phil Goff

30 January 2000


Foreign Minister Phil Goff today welcomed the adoption of the Biosafety Protocol in Montreal. "The result strikes a good balance between environmental and trade concerns. The Protocol meets our biosecurity concerns without unnecessarily restricting trade", he said.

"New Zealand has long pushed for a biosafety protocol to protect against risks posed by the transfer of living genetically modified organisms. We have a vital interest in protecting both our agricultural production and natural biodiversity

"When the Cabinet gave instructions to New Zealand's negotiating team there was a degree of pessimism, given the past failure of countries to find common ground. Had there been no agreement, then no international protocol would have existed to provide advance information about transfers of GMOs. We are pleased to see a successful outcome achieved by consensus.

Under the Protocol, states importing Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) can apply domestic laws in conformity with the precautionary principle.

That principle is incorporated in the text as; "lack of scientific certainty shall not prevent a party from taking decisions to minimise or avoid potential adverse effects".

The Protocol also provides that all products that may contain LMOs must be identified. "The convention clearly strengthens the hand of importing countries with regard to Genetically Modified Organisms.

Mr Goff said, "this will provide a good basis for New Zealand's GMO labelling exercise. On the trade side, there is also a useful reference to rights and obligations under existing agreements, such as the WTO.

"This helps meet the concern that countries could misuse provisions of the Protocol as a pretext for trade protectionism.

Mr Goff said, "the Protocol will be open for signing at the next meeting to be held in Nairobi in the May. Following Cabinet approval, New Zealand would sign the Protocol. A Parliamentary Select Committee would then consider and report on it before the Government takes a decision to ratify the Protocol.

"New Zealand is likely to be an early signatory, but it would be a couple of years before the Protocol could take effect because of the need for a minimum number of countries to sign the agreement.

"New Zealand already has the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms legislation which provides most of the protection we require. What this protocol does is gives early advance notice of companies or countries wishing to import LMOs into New Zealand.

"The Protocol will also assist developing countries around the world who do not have the legislative protection that New Zealand already enjoys".


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