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International Waters: Vital CBD Target Dates for the Aquarium Industry Approaching

Posted: Feb. 22, 2012, 11:55 a.m. EST

By John Dawes

When the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits opened for signatures at the United Nations in March 2011, it sought to obtain 50 supporting signatures from members of the CBD (aka parties). The protocol would then enter into force 90 days after the last of these signatures were obtained. This target was met a little while back, but the signatures have kept coming in and, at the time of writing, no fewer than 66 parties have signed.

The target for the Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress (part of the Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety) is 40 signatures. It’s already obtained 36, so it’s just a matter of time before the target is met. This Supplementary Protocol will also enter into force 90 days after the final required signature.
As I have reported in earlier installments of this column, both these treaties have serious implications for the ornamental aquatic industry.

Genetically Modified Fish
Liability for environmental damage caused by genetically modified fish should be shouldered by the users and importers of such fish, according to the Supplementary Protocol. Photo courtesy of Taikong Corporation
The former will include the fair sharing of benefits derived from genetic resources, and could include the paying of licenses or royalties to countries whose genetic and biological resources are exploited by other countries. Therefore, the countries of origin of, say, guppies or discus or whatever might eventually be deemed to be entitled to receive benefits for those “non-native” countries that currently breed and sell these fish for home aquaria. While this is a very simplified way of presenting the subject, it nonetheless helps illustrate one of the main principles involved.

The latter agreement, i.e., the Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress, could, for its part, result in users or importers of genetically modified fish having to pay for any damage such fish might cause to the environment, should they be released or escape. Again, this over simplifies the complexities of the matter, but highlights one of its underlying themes.

With the protocol already having surpassed its target number of signatures, and with the supplementary protocol already well on the way towards meeting its target, the time is approaching when the ornamental aquatic industry has to get its house in order to meet these challenges. It doesn’t have to have an answer today or tomorrow, but it does have to have an answer sooner rather than later.

There’s a little breathing space in the sense that, while the protocol will have entered into force by the time this item appears in print, there are so many complications involving its incorporation into the relevant legislatures of the CBD member countries that considerable delays are bound to occur. With regard to the supplementary protocol, the whole matter of liability and redress is so contentious, and there’s such a lack of consensus regarding the details of the process, that the CBD has issued a statement to the effect that its Conference of the Parties “shall, at its first meeting, adopt a process with respect to the appropriate elaboration of international rules and procedures in the field of liability and redress for damage resulting from transboundary movement of living modified organisms, analyzing and taking due account of the ongoing process in international law on these matters, and shall endeavor to complete the process within four years.”

It is perhaps worth noting that there are 193 parties to the CBD, but only 66 have signed the ABS Protocol and only 36 have, so far, signed the Liability and Redress Supplementary Protocol. What bearing this can or will have in the long run is therefore not clear. Also worth noting--and as I have mentioned in earlier items dealing with the CBD--is the fact that the largest player in virtually every market, i.e., the U.S., is not a member of the CBD, and is therefore not bound to abide by its agreements. <HOME>

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