The US Won't Be Shielded in the Event of a Biocrisis Clinton and the Senate Must Signal Support for Convention on Biological Diversity

Article excerpt

ALTHOUGH other failed legislation engendered higher-profile battles, one important victim of partisan gridlock was the Convention on Biological Diversity, aimed at combating rapid loss of biological diversity worldwide.

The Senate's failure to ratify this treaty relegates the US to mere "observer" status at December's conference of treaty partners, at which upward of 92 other countries will make decisions about access to the world's genetic resources. Those decisions will almost inevitably harm American industry. To prevent further environmental damage, President Clinton and Senate leaders should speak up quickly.

Negotiated as part of the 1992 Earth Summit, the convention already is international law. It provides for a globe-spanning cooperative effort to address accelerating extinction of species and loss of natural habitat. So important are these problems that in 1990, President George Bush's blue-ribbon Science Advisory Board identified them as two of the biggest threats to the global environment and human welfare. Obstructionist politics

In the current political climate, such weighty concerns seem to count for nothing. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, by a 16-to-3 vote, reported the treaty for ratification in July. But a handful of obstructionist senators essentially threatened to filibuster the treaty into oblivion. The principal excuse was that the treaty would hurt US industry. Although the complaints were all immediately answered by the Clinton administration, and many leaders of the allegedly endangered industries publicly endorsed the treaty, ratification died under the threat of a filibuster.

The first Conference of the Parties will soon meet to decide all-important rules on treaty procedure, financing and funding priorities, and provisions regulating the use of and trade in genetically altered or modified organisms. The parties are also expected to discuss the patenting and regulation of trade in new seed types and drugs based on plant extracts, and the creation of a clearinghouse on biological data.

Decisions not reached by consensus will be voted on by nations that have ratified the treaty. The US will be an outsider, seriously handicapped in its ability to influence treaty implementation and protect American interests. Lack of US support for the treaty, which began with the Bush White House, could easily provoke other countries to deny US agricultural, pharmaceutical, and biotechnology companies needed access to foreign genetic resources.

Because the US has such strong influence, no global environmental treaty that it resists has much chance to succeed. …


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