Subject: Australia wants GE foods fastracked via WTO
Date: Sun, 5 Dec 1999 3:15 PM
WTO Talks Fail
3 December 1999
Talks to establish a new "Milennium Round" of trade discussions have failed.
The breakdown in talks shows that WTO members need to fundamentally rethink
how the WTO conducts its business.
The delegates of developing nations said after the talks broke up that the
process had not been fair and did not address their concerns. There had been
tension building for several days, with African nations being particularly
vocal about their interests being locked out.
Industry and Government tried to say that the protests in Seattle had not
affected the outcome. Australian industry seemed to blame President Clinton,
the Europeans, and that time ran out.
However, it is clear that these talks failed because of the way the WTO does
its business. The protestor's messages about the WTO's processes were very
similar to the messages of the developing nations - trade talks that are
neither equitable nor directly address public concerns can no longer
The WTO needs to reform its processes so that trade policy is made
in a way that is transparent, fair and balanced.
More work will need to be done over the next few years to reform the
existing problems with the WTO's processes and rules.
We share the ACF concerns expressed in the following article, especially
the Federal Government's continuing commitment to undermine the Biosafety
Protocol negotiations which continue at the end of January 2000.
Sydney Morning Herald, December 2, 1999
Canberra backs role on GM foods
THE AGENDA By TOM ALLARD and SARAH CRICHTON
Australia will back a move to have the World Trade Organisation regulate
genetically modified (GM) foods, despite strong concerns from environmental
A WTO working party will examine GM foods as part of an extensive agenda
agreed to in Seattle on Tuesday that also includes investment, e-commerce,
government procurement and the transparency of the WTO, as well as
previously mandated issues such as farm and services trade barriers.
Australia, which initially resisted cluttering up the Seattle summit with
GM and other issues outside those already mandated, has agreed to its
inclusion in exchange for US support for eliminating agricultural subsidies.
Working parties have begun seeking common ground for a ministerial
declaration to launch a new round of trade talks.
Europe and Japan remain far from the US-Australia position on eliminating
agricultural subsidies. They want the declaration to call only for a
reduction in subsidies. Japan did not even turn up to the first meeting of
the agricultural working party.
GM foods and organisms are expected to be discussed once Europe and the US
agree on the parameters of the deliberations.
''If this GMO [genetically modified organisms] deal gets through, we can
forget about having our national laws on dealing with these controversial
products,'' said the Seattle representative of the Australian Conservation
Foundation (ACF), Ms Anna Reynolds.
''The trade in GM foods will be fast-tracked through the WTO. There will be
more of those foods on our supermarket shelves.''
The US, with an expanding food biotechnology industry, has floated a
proposal for labelling GM foods that excludes a requirement to label
products that may be genetically engineered but are only slightly different
to natural foods, products termed ''substantial equivalent''.
How integrated the GM food issue becomes with the push for farm trade
liberalisation remains to be seen, but Australia wants it considered
The ACF believes an era of lax regulation for GM foods is likely if the WTO
encompasses it in its agenda. This could produce not only a flood of
unlabelled GM foods on the market, but potentially serious consequences for
the environment given the lack of scientific knowledge of what happens when
GM crops are dispersed by wind or rain and find their way into animal feed,
other crops and the ecosystem in general.
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