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Biotechnology Information Essay, Research Paper
Since its inception, the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) has devoted all its efforts in assisting its Member States, most of which are developing countries or countries with economies in transition, for the peaceful application of modern biotechnology. Under these circumstances, it seemed quite natural that the Centre, fully supported by its constituency, indicate its availability to collaborate with the Ad Hoc Group of States Parties (AHG) to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) in order to provide its experience and its structures for enhancing the implementation of Article X of the BTWC.
At the present stage of the negotiations in the Ad Hoc Group for the adoption of a legally binding protocol for the implementation of the BTWC, the two major issues at stake are the establishment of a proper verification regime, coupled with a series of activities, foreseen by Article VII of the Protocol, aimed at enhancing international co-operation. While increasing the effect of the measures designed for confidence building, the latter should also provide the treaty with an added value element, for those countries that would not have a major interest in joining the Convention, either because they do not foresee the establishment of a BW programme or because they are in a relatively secure geopolitical situation.
Through its diversified spectrum of activities, the ICGEB is already providing a series of programmes which would be in line with many of the points raised by the Protocol and is quoted, albeit still in square brackets, as one of the international organizations with which the Technical Secretariat of the soon-to-be BTWC Organization should co-operate.
This aspect has been fully recognized in the course of an international conference, organized by the ICGEB and the Landau Network (Trieste, 26-27 June 1998) and entitled Peaceful Use of Biotechnology and the Biological Weapons Convention which concluded that:
- “an important contribution to the achievement of universal adherence to both the Convention and the future Protocol will be the clear identification of the incentives for those States that have no interest in biological weapons;
- measures can indeed be identified which will both implement Article X and contribute to increasing transparency and building confidence in compliance with the BTWC;
- the work of the ICGEB with its Affiliated Centres can and does contribute to increasing transparency and building confidence in compliance with the BTWC;
- the ICGEB should offer its expertise to the Ad Hoc Group in devising effective measures to implement Article X of the Convention; and
- specific measures to implement Article X are incorporated in the draft Protocol as they will provide tangible benefits for trade, prosperity and technological development as well as security for States Parties, including both developing and developed countries.
Thus, the ICGEB was already identified as a potential actor for the effective implementation of Article X of the BTWC and Article VII of the Protocol, respectively, based on the rationale that scientific co-operation and exchange of information are concrete and practical tools for a fully operational Convention.
At this stage, it would be interesting to consider a comprehensive programme that the Centre could be in a position to realize, dedicated to some of the aspects foreseen by Article VII of the Protocol. This programme should be capable, on the one hand, of taking advantage of the experience and the structures established by the Centre in its first twelve years of activity and, on the other hand, of solving some of the difficulties that a verification regime will have to face, due to the particular nature of the weapons considered by the BTWC.
Indeed, although all the paraphernalia of the verification regime will need to be properly established and structured, the past experience, and in particular the difficulties faced by other cases of extremely intrusive activities of verification and inspection, demonstrate that, in addition to the added value referred to above, co-operation and information sharing mechanisms are key elements to enhance confidence building.
The Biotechnology Information Sharing System (BISS) is therefore proposed as a programme that should complement the verification regime, while providing States Parties of the BTWC with a comprehensive mechanism allowing the continuous flow of information on several issues related to biological sciences. These could include (but not be limited to) topics like biosafety, collaborative research and development activities (and the relevant relationship with the industrial sector aimed at the development of new products of major benefit for mankind), the set-up of guidelines for proper quality control and validation of the products, as well as the harmonization of the procedures for the control and certification of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) or Good Laboratory Practices (GLP).
Although being a totally new programme, in view of its aims and purposes, BISS would take full advantage of the structure of the ICGEB, thus substantially reducing its operational costs, and would rely, in particular, on the experience and know-how gained by the Centre in its training programmes, its management of international databases and its expertise in dealing with technological transfers and the relationship with the industrial sector, in particular in the developing world.
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