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Lee To Battle 'Alien' Invasion

12 April 2002

Conservation Minister Sandra Lee will lead the New Zealand delegation to a conference in the Netherlands called to strengthen global cooperation on managing the Earth's biological resources.

The conference on the Convention on Biological Diversity in The Hague will focus on trying to achieve

- a stepped-up war on invasive 'alien' species;

- the adoption of the first-ever guidelines giving multinationals access to genetic resources¡Xsuch as plants for producing new pharmaceuticals¡Xin return for a fair share of the profits and benefits going to the country of origin and local communities; and

- strong economic incentives to convince companies and other stakeholders to pursue measures that will reverse the tide of deforestation.

Some 2,000 participants from 182 governments and the European Union are attending the conference which got underway at the start of this week with technical meetings for officials, and runs until 19 April.

Ms Lee leaves this weekend to join the New Zealand delegation at the Hague. It includes DOC, Agriculture and Forestry, and Fisheries officials and representatives of the scientific community, as well as Foreign Affairs diplomats from Wellington and from our United Nations mission.

The Conservation Minister said she would be taking advantage of the international gathering to unveil a new initiative to combat invasive alien species on islands. The initiative has been developed by New Zealand and the World Conservation Union, on behalf of our Pacific Island neighbours and other island countries.

"Introduced pests are a curse for many island nations," Ms Lee said. "In New Zealand, every night an estimated 70-million possums chew their way through 21,000 tonnes of choice native forest foliage, as well as a wide range of bird's eggs, chicks and insects, while posing the risk of spreading bovine TB and endangering our beef and venison export trade."

Ms Lee said other pacific island countries were undergoing similar problems. On Tahiti Island a South American ornamental tree was shading out significant areas of native forest and was contributing to landslides. On Christmas Island, the crazy ant during one 18-month period killed an estimated three million red land crabs.

"The aim of the new initiative would be to conserve island biodiversity by building the capacity of the small island states to manage their invasive alien species," Ms Lee said. "The New Zealand government has made a considered decision to take a capacity building approach as the better alternative to the much slower option of developing a binding protocol. Such a protocol might require years of discussion before a consensus could be reached, and would inevitably reflect an unsatisfactory 'lowest common denominator' approach."

Ms Lee said on the question of access by multinationals to New Zealand's genetic resources, the government would be looking to safeguard all its options. She said the Wai 262 Treaty of Waitangi claim over our indigenous flora and fauna had not yet been resolved.

"I have been advised that some countries are pressing for patent law reforms, trade rules and the establishment of an international register of traditional knowledge, " Ms Lee said. "New Zealand would be reluctant to support such proposals unless they are sufficiently flexible to enable the government to fulfil its Treaty obligations and to develop domestic solutions that reflect our particular circumstances."

Ms Lee said delegates would look closely at an experts report on whether an ambitious plan to halt deforestation should be adopted. She said one aspect likely to be robustly debated was a proposed Plant Conservation Strategy that recommended targets including the managing of 30 percent of productive land, by 2010, in ways consistent with plant diversity conservation. This would apply to forestry, agriculture and horticulture lands.

"The implications of this approach need to be carefully considered in a national context," Ms Lee said.

Media contacts:

-In Wellington

Fraser Folster, Press Secretary, 04 471 9821 or 025 947 795

-With the Minister

Nicola Scott, Private Secretary (Conservation)

Her New Zealand phone numbers (they divert to overseas) are:

Mobile (021) 825 035; Fax (021) 219 3961

Programme for attendance at the Sixth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity ("COP 6")

at The Hague in The Netherlands 16-19 April 2002 [All times are NZ times]

Sunday 14 April [All times are NZ times]

8.45pm Depart Auckland for London-Amsterdam

Tuesday 16 April [All times are NZ times]

12.45am Arrive at Amsterdam

8pm NZ Delegation officials at The Hague brief Minister on progress at COP6

10.30pm Bilateral meetings begin with other delegations

Wednesday 17 April [All times are NZ times]

3am Bilateral meetings continue with other delegations

4.30-6 am Minister launches Islands Initiative on Invasive Alien Species

[a media statement and speech notes will be issued under embargo]

8-11pm Ministerial meeting-first session

Thursday 18 April [All times are NZ times]

1-2am Ministerial meeting-second session

4.30-6am Reception for all delegations

6.30-8.30am Ministerial dinner

7pm Bilateral meetings continue with other delegations

8-11pm Ministerial meeting-third session

Friday 19 April [All times are NZ times]

1-4am Ministerial meeting-fourth session

5am Netherlands Agriculture Minister hosts dinner

8am COP6 Debrief

Saturday 20 April [All times are NZ times]

5.20pm Depart Amsterdam

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