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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs > Releases > Other Releases > 2004

Frequently Asked Questions on the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB)

Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Washington, DC
February 23, 2004

The first Meeting of the Parties (MOP) to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB) will take place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia February 23-27. The United States is not a Party but will participate as an observer.


Question: Why Is The United States Not A Party To The CPB?

Answer: The United States cannot become a Party to the CPB because we are not a Party to the parent Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The United States has signed but not ratified the CBD. We are reviewing the possibility of seeking ratification.

Question: Why is the United States interested in the CPB even though it is a non-Party?

Answer: The Protocol is a multilateral environmental agreement with potentially serious implications for global agricultural trade and the delivery of food aid in times of crisis. It is critical that the Protocol be implemented in a practical manner without creating unnecessarily strict regulatory barriers. The United States believes that the Protocol can be implemented in a manner that both accomplishes the important goal of biodiversity protection and provides for uninterrupted trade in agricultural commodities.

Question: What will the First Meeting of the Parties (MOP) to the Protocol discuss in Kuala Lumpur February 23-27?

Answer: The MOP will address a range of issues related to implementation of the Protocol. The language of the Protocol itself is quite broad, and the MOP will seek to provide clarity and guidance for Parties as they seek to comply with their obligations under the agreement. Among the issues to be discussed are information sharing, including the Biosafety Clearinghouse (BCH); capacity-building; liability and redress; compliance; and documentation requirements. The meeting agenda can be accessed through the CBD website at http://www.biodiv.org

Question: Will the United States participate in the Kuala Lumpur meeting?

Answer: The United States will participate in the meeting as an active observer, and we will work to advance our environmental and trade policy objectives. State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Environmental Affairs Claudia McMurray will lead the U.S. delegation. Officials from the Department of Agriculture, the Agency for International Development, the Office of the United States Trade Representative, and the United States Geological Survey will also be part of the United States delegation in Kuala Lumpur. Aside from the United States Government, American industry groups and environmental non-governmental organizations will attend.

Question: What are the United States' expectations for the Kuala Lumpur meeting?

Answer: Our challenge in Kuala Lumpur will be to find ways for Parties and non-Parties alike to adopt practical and effective measures for implementing the Protocol that will meet the environmental protection objectives of the Protocol without disrupting the global grain trade. Additionally, we want to see the Protocol implemented in a manner that does not discourage the adoption of agricultural biotechnology.

Question: What does the United States see as the main hurdles to a practical implementation of the CPB? Why?

Answer: Like many international treaties, the Protocol provides broad guidance. There are many details to be worked out over the coming years. Moreover, there is still widespread misunderstanding regarding what the Protocol requires. For instance, it requires documentation for bulk commodity shipments, but it does not require labeling at the consumer level. Further, bulk commodity shipments are not subject to the advance informed agreement (AIA) procedure of the Protocol. The AIA procedure is only required for living modified organism (LMO) shipments intended for direct introduction into the environment, such as seeds for planting.

Question: Is the United States contributing to the work of the CPB even though it is not a Party?

Answer: Yes, The United States advances its views on topics for discussion through submissions to the Secretariat and engaging in dialogue with parties and non-parties. Our most important contribution is the information we voluntarily provide to the biosafety clearinghouse through our website and database of regulatory activities related to biotechnology. The U.S. website provides an overview of the u.s. oversight system for products of modern biotechnology, including information on the roles of the regulatory agencies, links to relevant statutes and regulations and risk assessment information for biotechnology products that have completed U.S. regulatory review. The website is available to the general public and can be accessed at http://usbiotechreg.nbii.gov

The U.S. is also working with the Biosafety Clearinghouse and the Global Environmental Facility to help other countries develop their own websites and databases. The U.S. has developed a software template that we will make available to other countries. Additionally, the U.S., through the Agency for International Development and the Department of Agriculture, is very active in the area of biosafety programs, helping to create capacity in countries to understand and establish science-based regulatory systems.

Question: Is there a specific example of how the United States believes that both environmental and trade policy objectives can be met in the CPB context?

Answer: Yes. The Protocol effectively requires agricultural commodity shipments to be accompanied by documentation related to the Living Modified Organisms (LMO) content but does not provide details on this requirement. The United States,Mexico, and Canada have a Trilateral Arrangement on this matter that meets the protocol's environmental objectives and allows for uninterrupted trade flows. We are offering the Trilateral as an example for how to meet this documentation requirement. The text of the Trilateral is on the Biosafety Clearinghouse website at http://www.biodiv.org/chm/ under documents submitted by mexico.

Released on February 23, 2004

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