Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety: briefing; Zimbabwe Report: adoption

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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

05 August 2003

Chairperson: Mr N H Masithela (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety - Department of Environmental Affairs Presentation
Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity
Genetically Modified Organisms Act [No. 15 of 1997]
Report on Zimbabwe study tour.
Committee Programme (available shortly)

The Committee was briefed by Department of Environmental Affairs and Department on Agriculture and Land Affairs on the impact and implementation of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. Major issues of concern were the lack of major grain producing countries who had signed the protocol; the economic impact on South African farmers and workers; issues of intellectual property rights regarding the proposed BioSafety Clearing House, and the implementation of a public awareness programme.

The Zimbabwe Report was finally formally adopted, although individual objections were noted.

The Programme for the Session was discussed and agreed to, with members of the Committee potentially attending an agricultural conference in Durban in August.

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
Ms M Mbengashi, the Chief Director of Environmental Affairs in Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, presented the provisions of the Cartagena Protocol, and its relation to South Africa (see attached Powerpoint Presentation).

Dr Shadrack Moephuli, registrar of the GMO Act presented on behalf of Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs on the Cartagena Protocol (see attached).

During the presentation Ms Ntuli (ANC) asked for clarifications regarding some of the acronyms being used.

Ms Mbengashi, explained that LMOs referred to Living Modified Organisms and that AIA stood for Advance Inform Agreement.

The Chair invited questions regarding the implications of the Cartagena Protocol, in particular the concept of a Clearing House. He also felt that the Committee should discuss whether or not South Africa wanted to ratify the protocol.

Mr Botha (DA) stated that Zimbabwe has made a request to the South African Government for food aid . When such aid was given last year this caused a rise (and then subsequent decrease) in prices in the South African market. Would the implications of such a donation be the same this year?

Dr Moephuli said that the drought in Zimbabwe would have no specific impact on South Africa akin to last year. This was because there was an excess of grain in South Africa this year. In addition to this regulatory procedure to handle imports had been streamlined since last year. He admitted that he was unsure about this matter in relation to the Cartagena Protocol.

A member asked why the major grain exporters had not signed the protocol, and what the implications of this were?

Dr Moephuli said that this was indeed puzzling. America was categorically not going to become members of the protocol, which should come was no surprise. Brazil had been very active in negotiations, but had now pulled out. Obviously there were specific interests at stake, and they migh be taking a 'wait and see' attitude. South Africa should not be used as the first trial in terms of joining the protocol before any other major grain-producing country.

Ms Ntuli (ANC) asked how public participation was going to be facilitated.

Ms Mbengashi said that DEAT and Department of Agriculture and Land Affairswere going to hold a joint workshop in order to engage the public (especially exporters) in this issue. They would be involved in decision-making, and this would be an ongoing process, which would continue after the ratification of the protocol.

Ms Ntuli asked Ms Mbengashi to define public, as she seemed to be talking about exports and exporters, but what about the effect on the general public?

The Chair stated that it must be ensured that ordinary citizens were taken on board, and that NGOs and the private sector were both informed and actively participating.

Dr Moephuli stated that the Cartagena protocol was not South African Law, but that the GMO act was. Therefore two kinds of public awareness programmes were needed: the first in the context of the GMO Act, which would be ongoing, and the second in the context of the Cartagena Protocol, which would target exporters. In light of this a workshop would follow focusing on how to ensure compliance, which would target exporters.

Mr Maluleke (DA), asked what the time frames on Article 23 were.

Dr Moephuli stated that a workshop would be run by the end of August 2003.

Ms Ntuli (DA) also asked what the position of non-members would be once the protocol came into effect.

Dr Moephuli stated that regarding the position of the non-members a range of interpretations were possible. A non-member of a club you could not be forced to abide by the rules. However, internationally there were other laws that could force you to do so. Thus countries might be brought into line through their membership of another club, such as the WTO (although he said that that example was not relevant in this case as the Cartagena Protocol is a UN mandate).

The Chair enquired why the Cartagena Protocol was going to come into effect on September 11, and indicated that this may be a bad day! More, seriously, he wanted clarification on the budgetary implications of the protocol (in regard to a budget vote).

Ms Mbengashi said that her department had requested a baseline increase in order to accommodate the expenses relating to the protocol.

Dr Moephuli said that in terms of budgetary implications Department of Agriculture and Land Affair's analysis had been that ratification would not take place before the end of the year, however, this had proved incorrect, therefore they had no budget for the current year. However, the Budget for the GMO Act had been large, but the anticipated amount of activity had not happened, so he did not want the department to over-reach itself. In terms of the Cartagena Protocol DALA would be more involved with the implementation aspect that DEAT would, and thus may request adjustments from the treasury.

The Chair also enquired about the economic implications of the protocol (effects on farmers and workers).

Dr Moephuli replied that the protocol would increase costs to the producer and might decrease the number of people employed.

The Chair also wondered that seeing as South Africa had signed but not ratified the protocol, whether there was any likelihood of delaying ratification in order to hold further negotiations.

Ms Mbengashi said that the Minister of Foreign Affairs had signed the protocol and requested that instruments of ratification be deposited. The implementation of the protocol needed to be speeded up, because if South Africa had not deposited ratification by November they would be unable to participate in the March Meeting. Foreign Affairs had been given the go-ahead to deposit instruments of ratification.

Dr Moephuli said that he felt this matter should be discussed between the ministers.

Ms Ntuli (ANC) asked whether regarding the objectives of the protocol and the issue of human safety and health the Department of Health was also involved?

Ms Mbengashi replied that DEAT, Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs (DALA), Department of Health, Department of Trade and Industry and Deparment of Foreign Affairs were all involved and took different areas of responsibility. The Department of Health was involved in terms of regulations regarding food safety.

The Chair inquired whether the sharing of information at the clearing house may have implications for Intellectual property rights.

Ms Mbengashi stated that there was a confidentiality clause in the Cartagena Protocol. However, this would be investigated in further detail at the following meeting of the members of the protocol, to be held in March.

Dr Moephuli said that the sending of information to an international database was a contentious issue. Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs had been flooded with regards regarding GMO applications, however sometimes this information was confidential (despite the Public Access to Information Act), and dealing with these matters causes time delays.

The Chair was worried that the Cartagena Protocol could be ratified without factoring in safety measures. He felt that it was the Committee's responsibility to safeguard farmers, and thus they needed to think about this matter before moving ahead. He stressed that he was not advising delay, but caution in the interest of South African citizens.

Ms Mbengashi reiterated that the Central Database of the Biosafety Clearing House would be managed by the secretariat, and further discussed at the next meeting.

The Chair felt that his point still stood, because between current date and March 2004 anything could happen, such as in the RooibosTea patent case.

Ms Ntuli pointed out that in terms of Article 21 farmers were not protected.

The Chair felt that the way forward was to access the financial impact and speed up the process. He felt that a joint meeting with the Environment Portfolio Committee needed to be held as soon as possible, as well as a meeting between the political heads of Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs DEAT and Department of Foreign Affairs. There could be problems if these concerns were not raised now, and that this would put pressure on DALA and farmers/workers. There were also implications applying to the possible need to amend the GMO Act in a negative way.

This topic was now adjourned, with the decision being taken to arrange the envisaged meetings with the utmost urgency.

Zimbabwe Report
The report had been returned to the committee for signing, after spelling and grammar mistakes had been corrected.

The Chair enquired as to whether everyone agreed with the report, and stated they could return to certain issues if necessary.

Mr Botha (DA) stated that it should be acknowledged that the subcommittee (which comprised the delegation to Zimbabwe) had failed to meet on three occasions. On numerous occasions he had disagreed with certain issues, however he was prepared to compromise. However, in terms of the observations and recommendations, he would like to hand in his own report, a request which the Chair had denied. If the Committee chose to adopt the report, he would like to make his disagreement known.

The Chair stated that he did not want to move sideways.

Mr Dladi (ANC) asked if all members had read and were satisfied with the report since the last meeting? He felt that the answer was yes, and that there had been agreement on most issues.

The Chair stated the majority of members of the committee agreed on the report. He felt that they had different views, but unless anyone wanted to raise particular matters of fundamental disagreement, they should go ahead and adopt the bill.

Mr Botha (DA) said that issues of disagreement had been discussed previously. For now he wanted clarity on whether the member of a delegation could attach a minority report.

The Chair pointed out that in the delegation to the Zimbabwe elections a minority opinion had been noted in the report.

Mr Botha (DA) thus stated that he would like to make a formal suggestion for a minority report.

The Chair reminded the committee that they should stick to procedure and first adopt the report, then decide if a minority report was necessary.

Mr Maluleke (DA) said that he felt it was difficult for him to decide about a minority report, because he had not been part of the delegation. He felt that the minority report should be circulated to members.

The Chair pointed out the report had been previously intensively discussed and debated. The only reason it had not been signed was that it was not grammatically correct. Previously the committee had reached agreement, and he was not willing to discuss a potential minority report until the report had been formally adopted.

Mr Botha (DA) pointed out that he had not been able to attend the last meeting of the delegation, and thus could not agree or disagree with them. He stated that the committee was not the delegation, and the dissent within the delegation should have been relayed to the committee.

The Chair observed that once the committee decided something it was binding.

Ms Ntuli (ANC) stated that according to the rules the Committee report should contain nothing else. If there were dissenting voices this would lead to voting, and then debating in the house. She saw no reason why special arrangements should be made for Mr Botha.

The Chair appealed to Members to adopt the report. There were nine members in favour and three again, and the report was adopted.

Mr Botha (DA) enquired whether the Chair would like him to go through each individual objection to the report.

The Chair asked whether the suggestion of Botha's minority report was accepted.

Mr Maluleke (DA) stated that one could not reject something that one had not seen.

The Chair said that the objection to the report would be noted. This matter would be debated in Parliament, as individuals.

Committee Programme
The Chair noted that the Sectional Titles Amendment Bill, the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill, and the Spatial Data Infrastructure Bill were all coming up in the next couple of months. He suggested that the committee would hold public hearings in terms of the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill.

He stated that they were supposed to have discussed this by June, and get a report from the Land Commission. However the Land Commission was coming before the committee the following week.

He said that the programme for the session had not been amended much, but different matters had been prioritised.

The Chair also drew the committee's attention to the International Agricultural Association conference to be held in Durban.

Mr Botha (DA) stated that the conference would be held from the 18 to the 23 of August 2003. Would the committee would be attending the conference.

The Chair said that this issue was unclear but that he would report back to the committee the following week. He asked whether the committee agreed in principle with the programme as it was, and the idea of public hearings on the Land Restitution Amendment Act, both of which matters were assented to.

Mr Botha (DA) asked that minutes of the meeting be circulated to members.

The Chair replied that this issue had been raised two months ago, he would make further enquiries on the matter.

The meeting was adjourned.




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