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 You are in: Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security > Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) > Releases > Fact Sheets > 2004
Fact Sheet
Bureau of Nonproliferation
Washington, DC
August 10, 2004

The Australia Group

The Australia Group (AG) was founded in 1984 in the aftermath of the massive use of chemical weapons (CW) during the Iran-Iraq war. During the 1980s, evidence surfaced that several countries, including Iraq, were producing chemical weapons, using supplies from the international trade in chemicals and related equipment.

The principal impetus for the AG was to ensure that the industries of the participating countries did not assist, either purposefully or inadvertently, states seeking to acquire a CBW (chemical and biological weapons) capability.

AG participants observe and fully support international treaties and commitments against CBW.

Thirty-eight countries participate in the AG: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, UK, and the U.S. The AG operates by consensus. The group meets annually, usually in Paris.

Countries requesting membership in the AG can only be admitted by a consensus of existing members. Applicant countries should have an established, effective, legally-based system of national export controls (including catch-all controls), and demonstrated compliance with all multilateral treaties banning CBW activities.

The list of items over which all Australia Group participants exercise national export control includes:

  • 54 dual-use chemical precursors;
  • dual-use CW-related production equipment (such as corrosion-resistant reactor vessels);
  • 111 pathogens and toxins that affect humans, livestock animals, and/or food plants; and
  • dual-use production equipment (such as containment facilities and fermenters).

The AG seeks to impede the proliferation of CBW by providing a multilateral venue for:

  • harmonizing export controls on CW precursor chemicals and manufacturing equipment that could be used in CW production;
  • harmonizing export controls on materials and dual-use manufacturing equipment and facilities that could be diverted to biological weapon (BW) production;
  • sharing information about global CBW proliferation trends and entities attempting to procure CBW-related materials; and
  • consulting with AG non-participants, to encourage them to establish similar national export licensing systems.

The AG's efforts have made it more difficult for proliferators to acquire materials for their CBW programs. Voluntary national monitoring of chemical and biological trade supports nonproliferation goals in a practical manner and is reasonably easy and economical to implement. Export controls do not hamper legitimate trade; they enable responsible governments to review exports and ensure that commercial industries under their respective jurisdictions do not contribute to the development of weapons of mass destruction. Through their participation in the Group, countries demonstrate their determination to prevent the proliferation of CBW, and to support the establishment of a global ban on CBW activities.

The AG's activities complement and serve the objectives and goals of the 1925 Geneva Protocol, the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), and the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

The AG urges other countries to adopt comparable export controls. AG members have agreed on a number of measures to reach out to other countries, and to foster better understanding of the AG and of nonproliferation efforts. Recent AG meetings have sought to refine the Group's internal operations and to regularize contacts with non-participants.

In 1993, the AG adopted a "no-undercut" policy to enhance cooperation in enforcing export controls. AG participants agreed to notify the Group of those export licenses for AG-controlled items denied for CBW nonproliferation reasons. Partners must then consult with the Government that denied a specific export license before deciding to approve an essentially identical transaction.

More recently, the AG:

  • adopted formal guidelines governing the licensing of sensitive chemical and biological items;

  • tightened control parameters to increase security against terrorists seeking items for CBW attacks;

  • agreed to control the transfer of AG-controlled information and knowledge in "intangible" form (e.g., via fax, phone, e-mail, or speech);

  • intensified its focus on engaging with and changing the behavior of countries that possess CBW or facilitate CBW programs;

  • agreed to take into account in licensing decisions the adequacy of recipient-state and intermediary-state export controls;

  • agreed to engage countries in the Asia-Pacific region on CBW nonproliferation issues;

  • approved new procedures for improving transparency and enhancing information sharing among members, including via an electronic information-sharing system; and

  • approved a practical guide for compliance and enforcement officers.

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