Australians push to block biosafety protocol

By Boyd Champness

CONSERVATIVE Australian MPs, farmers and leading business figures are mustering support within the Federal Government in a last-ditch attempt to stop Australia signing an international protocol.

They claim it could undermine the nations trading position.

According to The Australian newspaper, Liberal-National party coalition backbenchers – with the support of the National Farmers Federation and leading business figures – have written to the Foreign Minister Alexander Downer urging him stop the Environment Minister Senator Robert Hill signing an international treaty on biodiversity in Nairobi next month.

Those opposed to the treaty, which requires genetically modified foods to be labelled and allows countries to block the import of GMOs even where there is no scientific basis for concerns, fear it could lead to artificial trade barriers.

The MPs – mostly members of the Federal Parliaments treaties committee – have joined the NFF in warning that the protocol, concluded in January in Montreal, is loosely worded and would undermine free-trade rights under the World Trade Organisation.

According to the newspaper, Senator Hill could sign the agreement in his own capacity, but would need cabinet approval to introduce legislation ratifying it.

Treaties committee chairman, Liberal Andrew Thompson, told The Australian that Australia would regret being bound by such an ill-defined agreement.

“Australia should not sign this kind of Al Gore, job-hating radical green rubbish infecting our trade priorities,” he was quoted as saying.

NFF trade and quarantine director Lyall Howard said the wording allowed Europe or Japan to block imports before any scientific assessment justifying the move was carried out.

Federal Agriculture Minister Warren Truss recently indicated that Australia would sign the treaty to placate overseas consumers despite grave concerns that it would be used as a form of trade barrier.

He said Australia could do its trade relations more harm by not signing the treaty and isolating itself from world consensus.

“In an ideal situation, we would have preferred not to have gone that way,” Mr Truss told The Weekly Times recently.

“But the debate has reached such momentum internationally that it is an essential element in building public confidence (in GM foods).”

The United Nations-sponsored protocol is open for signature next month and needs the support of 50 nations to come into force.

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