Trade Trumps Peace in Bioweapons Negotiations

The Sunshine Project tsp at sunshine-project.org
Mon Jul 16 18:07:50 EST 2001


The Sunshine Project
News Release
16 July 2001
http://www.sunshine-project.org


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   Trade Trumps Peace in Bioweapons Negotiations
   US Scuttles Others' Security in the Interest of Biotech Hegemony
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(Hamburg and Austin, 16 July 2001) - The Verification Protocol to the 
Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention was dealt yet another blow last 
week. Key US diplomats indicated that trade secrets take priority over 
weapons control, and that the US is unwilling to develop a fair and 
transparent export control system to prevent biological weapons 
technology from passing into the wrong hands.

Trading peace.     Negotiations have been ongoing to develop a 
Verification Protocol to the BTWC for more than six years. In US 
Congressional testimony last week, Ambassador Don Mahley, chief US 
negotiator on biological weapons, piously declared that "The United 
States does not view the negotiations about a Protocol to the Biological 
Weapons Convention to be a discussion of trade access."

But only seconds later, Mahley's halo of arms control purpose was 
dirtied when he added that the US sees the draft protocol as a threat to 
its biotech hegemony: "The United States is the world leader in 
biotechnology. The cost of early research and development Š is enormous. 
Providing others with the means to avoid such sunk costs or to obtain 
process information for unfair competition would endanger not only the 
industry, but the benefits that industry provides to the entire world."

As Mahley testified, across the world in Bangkok the US and its OECD 
partners were trying to force open reluctant Asian markets to US 
bioengineered products. Farmers outside the OECD meeting in Bangkok 
clearly rejected the "benefits" of the US biotech industry.

But, in other words, what Mahley said is that the US cannot accept 
inspections because UN teams will be infiltrated by commercial spies. 
"That's a red herring," counters the Sunshine Project's Jan van Aken, "A 
UN inspection system that protects trade secrets can be done. Mock 
inspections in several European countries demonstrated that industry 
would have little to fear from commercial espionage. Even the 
hyper-secretive multinational pharmaceutical industry has tentatively 
signaled acceptance of visits by UN inspectors."

What's really at stake is the US desire to be completely unencumbered in 
imposing unilateral trade sanctions. Currently, a biotech elite of the 
US and developed country allies use a secretive club called the 
Australia Group to prohibit shipments of equipment and know-how to 
countries suspected of developing biological weapons. The basis of 
export denials is unpublished, so countries denied equipment never even 
find out why. Developing countries say that the system is arbitrary and 
unfair.

"While there is agreement that situations arise in which some countries 
should be prohibited access to certain biotechnology like advanced 
fermenters," says Susana Pimiento, a Colombian lawyer with Sunshine 
Project, "developing countries argue that the Australia Group's export 
controls are a selective, unfair trade and political tool, hindering 
technological development in their countries." The Non Aligned Movement 
says that if it submits to mandatory inspections of biotechnology 
facilities under the Verification Protocol, then export control systems 
should give all countries equal rights.

A fair and transparent system for imposing export controls isn't even 
under consideration. Says the Sunshine Project's Edward Hammond, "This 
US policy is a biotech trade wolf disguised as a peaceful sheep, and it 
has the unmistakable odor of the Department of Commerce. The same free 
trade evangelists that force biotech products on the world want to use 
arms control as a back door to impose barriers to technology transfer 
and inhibit competition. Even though everybody agrees that export 
controls are necessary, the US has decided that its commercial interests 
dictate that it won't work with the UN to make export controls 
transparent and fair."

Work to be Done:      Since the outset of negotiations, all sides have 
acknowledged that monitoring compliance with the BTWC is difficult. 
Parties agree in principle that situations may arise in which access to 
particular technologies should be restricted. One multilateral solution 
is a broad export notification system for items that have both peaceful 
and hostile uses. Compilation of an international database on dual use 
exports could be instrumental in identifying secret bioweapons programs. 
Negotiators in Geneva should push to agree on a notification system that 
will build true multilateral and North-South cooperation on restricting 
some countries' access to potentially abused technology.

A strong multilateral monitoring agreement, even if imperfect, would 
have the credibility, expertise, and access that individual countries 
don't. "If the US insists on a trade-arms control link and unilaterally 
enforcing its interpretations rather than working on export control in a 
UN framework, it precludes cooperation and damages the BTWC." says 
Pimiento, "Who nominated the US to be the global cop of monitoring 
anyway? The erroneous US bombing of a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan 
shows the danger. The world would be better off with a UN system of 
export controls and not leaving it to the Department of Commerce and 
trigger happy US military and intelligence agencies."


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