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Thursday, 27 January, 2000, 21:56 GMT
Bio-safety deal 'within reach'

Greenpeace protesters mob French Environment Minister Dominique Voynet Protesters mob French Environment Minister Dominique Voynet


By Geoff Phillips in Montreal

European Union environment ministers taking part in a bio-safety conference in the Canadian city of Montreal have stressed their commitment to reaching a new agreement by Friday, the self-imposed deadline for a deal.

They have urged the negotiating parties to give environmental protection priority over other issues, such as free trade.

After a conference a year ago was unable to reach agreement on a bio-safety protocol, the 10 ministers and the EU commissioner have now said that the world would not understand another failure.


We all need this protocol to protect the world's biodiversity ... the EU is as committed as ever
EU Commissioner Margot Wallstrom


Sitting together at a news conference, they stressed that agreement was within reach and that they had travelled to Montreal to throw their political weight behind the protocol that gave precedence to safe food and the protection of the environment.

One of the central points at issue here is how to reconcile the interests of countries which have spent billions of dollars on genetic research and are now looking to recoup that investment in sales of genetically-modified crops, such as soya beans and corn, with those who say European consumers have proved resistant to these products in the shops and supermarkets.

The negotiators are trying to find language that accommodates both sets of interests and although they seem to be getting there, it's proving difficult.

The ministers said that the proposed bio-safety protocol should not be subordinated to World Trade Organisation rules, which promote free international trade.

They said that the protocol should adopt the precautionary principle which would allow importers to wait until the long-term effects of using genetically-modified products were known, before agreeing to their unrestricted sale.

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See also:
01 Dec 99 |  Americas
WTO 'seizing control of GM trade'
24 Feb 99 |  World
GM food talks fail

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