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Friday, May 20, 2005

Important Message from Tewolde Egziabher

Dr. Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher from Ethiopia – Tewolde to his friends - African Union’s chief spokesperson and negotiator for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was denied a visa to enter Canada for a crucial conference of the parties and preceding working group meeting, which will take place in Montreal between 25 May and 3 June. Canada is not a Party to the Biosafety Protocol. The meetings are expected to shape the controversial issues of identification (labelling) of genetically modified products, and liability and redress in case of damages caused.

These issues were left outstanding at the final show-down in the 3-way negotiations on the Cartagena Protocol in Montreal in 2000: the Canadian delegate, negotiating on behalf of the Miami Group (Canada, USA, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile); Tewolde, negotiating on behalf of the developing countries including China, (with the exception of Argentina, Uruguay and Chile); and the European Commission delegate negotiating on behalf of the European Union. An impassioned, historic speech by Tewolde broke the deadlock; and the European Commission delegate came down on the side of the Africans and developing countries. Agreement was reached, leaving identification, and liabilities and redress to be negotiated and settled soon after the Protocol comes into force. Five years later, however, these issues remain unresolved.

Tewolde is also the chief negotiator for the African Union on the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) under the auspices of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. Apart from attending the biosafety meetings in Montreal, he was also due to attend, on the same trip, equally important meetings on ITPGRFA in Lusaka, Zambia, and Oslo, Norway. In this treaty too, there is the unfinished business of negotiating a Material Transfer Agreement defining the terms under which research materials are exchanged between nations.

Tewolde’s troubles began when he applied for a visa from the Canadian Embassy in Addis Ababa. They gave him "some highly complex forms", which he filled in, and the forms and his passport were sent to the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi by courier on 5 May 2005. But the Canadian High Commission sent him back "even more complicated additional forms to fill in," which he duly did, and immediately sent the forms back on 10 May 2005, together with clear information on all his travel plans. By then, he had already missed his meeting in Lusaka.

On 17 May, his passport was returned, without a Canadian visa. By then, he his flight for Oslo had departed without him.

It was only then that Tewolde wrote a public letter addressed to the delegates of both meetings (gmwatch.org), revealing the full sequence of events that resulted in his absences.

"What a neat instrument of interfering with negotiations to which you are not a party, refusing an entry visa has become!" Tewolde declared. "But, now that I have been prevented from coming to Montreal, who knows which ones of you will be prevented next time?"

He is protesting to the government of Canada, and invites everyone to do the same. He also suggests moving the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) out of Canada, or at least refuse to hold any negotiation sessions in Canada. Both the Cartagena Protocol and the ITPGRFA are negotiated under the CBD.

To his fellow delegates to the Cartagena Protocol Conference of the Parties on Biosafety, he has this to say:

"I would like to urge you all Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to continue withstanding the ex-Miami Group and insisting on:
a. Clear labelling on all genetically engineered commodities;
b. State liability in cases of damage to the environment and/or human beings arising from products of genetic engineering;
c. Entitlement to full compensation in cases of damage to the environment and/or human beings;
d. Burden of proof of any product of genetic engineering not being the cause of damage resting on the country exporting that product;
e. Venue of litigation and enforcement of judgement being in the country where the damage occurred and not in the country of export.

Tewolde also urges all his African and other friends in the Material Transfer Agreement discussions of the ITPGRFA, "to ensure a common understanding on aiming at communally obtaining the benefits that the CBD entitles us, i.e.
a) Research on the genetic resources accessed to be carried out "with the full participation of" the Parties that need to develop their capacities ( Art. 15.6);
b) Research to be carried out in the territories of the Parties that need to develop their capacities (Art. 15.6);
c) Research results to be made available to Parties (Art.15.7);
d) Financial benefits to be shared with the Parties (Art.15.7);
e) Technologies generated to be transferred to the Parties (Art. 16);
f) The continuing right to revise the Material Transfer Agreement to be maintained by the Parties to make it consistent with developments in the CBD, especially with the outcome of the ongoing negotiations on access and benefit-sharing."

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is necessary for protecting the public from the hazards of GM products, while the ITPGRFA is the key to protecting indigenous genetic resources from being expropriated by corporations in the name of carrying out scientific research. The piracy and patenting of genetic resources is the greatest threat to food sovereignty and food security.

Tewolde is clearly not giving up. He ends with this message for his friends: "Of course, inspite of this present hindrance by the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi, I will try to get on the processes with you at a later stage."

Tewolde is also President of the Sustainable World Global Initiative recently launched by ISIS and ISP.

Please send your protest together with this report to:

Hon. Pierre Pettigrew, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pettigrew.P@parl.gc.ca Telephone (613) 995-8872 Fax: (613) 995-9926

Hon. Andy Mitchell ,Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Mitchell.A@parl.gc.ca Telephone:(613) 996-3434 Fax: (613) 991-2147

Hon. Stéphane Dion, Minister of the Environment, stephane.dion@ec.gc.ca
Telephone: (613) 996-5789 Fax: (613) 996- 6562

Hon. Hon. Joseph Volpe, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Volpe.J@parl.gc.ca Telephone: (613) 992-6361 Fax: (613) 992- 9791

Science Society Sustainability


Please read this important message from Tewolde Egziabher.
It will be recalled that the final show down in the negotiations on the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety involved a Canadian delegate negotiating on behalf of the Miami Group (Canada, USA, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile), a European Commission delegate negotiating on behalf of the European Union, and myself negotiating on behalf of the developing countries including China, with the exception of Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. It will also be recalled that the two main issues left pending during the final negotiation session of the Protocol in 2000, to be negotiated and settled soon after the Protocol comes into force, were identification (labelling) (see Article 18.2 (a)) and liability and redress (See Article 27).

The issue of identification has to be settled in COP/MOP 2 in Montreal, 30 May-3 June 2005, and I expect that the shape of the future negotiations on liability and redress will be determined in the preceding 3-day meeting of the 1st Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group of Legal and Technical Experts on Liability and Redress on 25 -27 May 2005. Both meetings will take place in Montreal, Canada, in the territory of a State which is not a Party to the Protocol.

I had planned to participate in these negotiations and continue with trying to help finalize the unfinished business of protecting biodiversity and human beings.

In a related forum under the auspices of the FAO, I helped negotiate the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture as the chief negotiator of the African Group. In this treaty also, we have an unfinished business - that of negotiating a Material Transfer Agreement to go with the Treaty.

On the 11th and 12th of May 2005 we were to have an African Preparatory Meeting on the Material Transfer Agreement in Lusaka, Zambia. On the 19th and 20th of May 2005 we were to have an inter-regional meeting on the same issue in Oslo, Norway.

From Oslo, I was to travel to Montreal via London.

Based on these facts, I planned my travels and obtained all my visas for Zambia, the Schengen States, and the United Kingdom and sent my diplomatic passport to the Canadian Embassy in Addis Ababa for the Canadian visa.

They gave me some highly complex forms to fill in. I filled them in. The passport and the forms duly filled in were sent to the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi by courier on 5 May 2005.

The Canadian High Commission sent me back even more complicated additional forms to fill in. I filled them in immediately and sent them back on 10 May 2005 together with clear information on all my travel plans.

I should have left for Lusaka on 10 May 2005. So, I missed the African Preparatory meeting on the Material Transfer Agreement of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture because my passport was still in the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi.

Today is the 17th of May 2005. My passport returned from Nairobi and was given to me this morning at 10:00 hrs. The British Airways flight which was to take me to Oslo had already left in the night. Therefore I will not be able to attend the meeting in Oslo. My passport came back to me without a Canadian visa. Therefore, I am not going to Montreal to attend the liability and readdress and COP/MOP 2 negotiations either.

What a neat instrument of interfering with negotiations to which you are not a party, refusing an entry visa has become!

My friends, we have passed various hurdles in assuring our rights for fairness and justice in both the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

I am writing this letter to you all for the following reasons:

1. I would like to urge you all Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to continue withstanding the ex-Miami Group and insisting on:
a. Clear labelling on all genetically engineered commodities;
b. State liability in cases of damage to the environment and/or human beings arising from products of genetic engineering;
c. Entitlement to full compensation in cases of damage to the environment and/or human beings;
d. Burden of proof of any product of genetic engineering not being the cause of damage resting on the country exporting that product;
e. Venue of litigation and enforcement of judgement being in the country where the damage occurred and not in the country of export.

2. But, now that I have been prevented from coming to Montreal, who knows which ones of you will be prevented next time? Should we allow the country where our own Secretariat of the CBD is located to become the sieve to let pass only those of us it wants to participate in negotiations?

I protest, and I invite you to join me in the protest, to the Government of Canada. If this act of sieving by Canada continues, I suggest that we either move our Secretariat of the CBD elsewhere, or at least refuse to hold any negotiation sessions in Canada.

3. I would like to urge you all my African and other friends in the Material Transfer Agreement discussions to ensure a common understanding on aiming at communally obtaining the benefits that the CBD entitles us, i.e.

a) Research on the genetic resources accessed to be carried out "with the full participation of" the Parties that need to develop their capacities ( Art. 15.6);
b) Research to be carried out in the territories of the Parties that need to develop their capacities (Art. 15.6);
c) Research results to be made available to Parties (Art.15.7);
d) Financial benefits to be shared with the Parties (Art.15.7);
e) Technologies generated to be transferred to the Parties (Art. 16);
f) The continuing right to revise the Material Transfer Agreement to be maintained by the Parties to make it consistent with developments in the CBD, especially with the outcome of the ongoing negotiations on access and benefit-sharing.

Of course, inspite of this present hindrance by the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi, I will try to get on the processes with you at a later stage.

Please, in the mean time, negotiate effectively.

With best wishes for you all,
Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher

cc:
- Dr. Hamdallah Zedan, Executive Secretary of the CBD secretariat@biodiv.org
- The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Addis Ababa
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Addis Ababa
- Embassy of Canada, Addis Ababa
GMWatch.org


Meles defends genetically modified crops
Speaking after an international summit on hunger, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said traditional technology and biotechnology could be used in tandem. "Should we rule out GM crops or biotechnology as a weapon in our arsenal? No. Why should we rule out any technology? GM technology is like every [other] technology," Meles told journalists. "It could be used well, or it could be misused. The issue is how to use it well. I think it can be used well if is used safely and if it does not increase the already big power of huge multinationals at the expense of the small-scale farmer."
IRIN Africa

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