Not a single word remains unchallenged during the making of a Protocol

It is a hall where no word and no paragraph that goes into the making of a Protocol are left unchallenged and untouched. With every country sending the best negotiator of the lot, the debate is often so animated that it looks like a busy bourse barring of course the gesticulations.

Welcome to Hall 1 and 2 of the HICC here, the venue of the ongoing sixth meeting of the Conference of Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties (CoP MoP 6) to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

For the third consecutive day on Wednesday, member countries represented by their ‘national focal points’ divided into Working Group 1 and 2, have been meticulously poring over a pile of agenda items looking for paras, phrases and parenthesis that do not go with their respective national goals.

As the chair calls the meeting to order sharp at 10 a.m. and seeks the views of the countries on some of the contentious paras, the ever alert delegates swing into action and make their point.

On Wednesday, the drafts that came up for consideration included operation and activities of the Biosafety Clearing House (BCH), risk assessment and risk management, capacity building: roster of experts, matters relating to the financial mechanism and resources and second assessment and review of the effectiveness of the Protocol.

Quite often the debate spills over beyond the allotted time despite the chair invoking diplomatic semantics urging the delegates to show “flexibility” in accepting the para or its deletion.

So concerned were the delegates from African countries with issues relating to BCH today that they delayed their lunch and held a quick strategy session on ways of pressing the chair to accommodate amendments addressing their concerns.

Different perceptions

Like any other international fora, there is clear difference in perception between developed and developing countries over issues relating to biosafety, risk assessment and financial mechanism. If European Union takes a certain position, it is quite the opposite by Latin American, African and Asian countries.

And if a good suggestion comes from one of these countries it is immediately accepted by these groupings as it happened with Egypt’s view on provision of funds for biodiversity and biosafety.

For those uninitiated, these debates looked pedantic, but for delegates there seemed to be no end to the enthusiasm. NGO observers and media persons who relish in picking holes in Protocols too grudgingly accept that it is indeed an elaborate exercise.