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EU-CAN negotiations: Biodiversity in the crosshairs

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Radio Mundo Real | 10 July 2008

EU-CAN negotiations: Biodiversity in the crosshairs

When the European Commission (EC) put a hold on the negotiations of an Association Agreement with the Andean Community of Nations (CAN) at the beginning of July, the structure of this bloc — composed of Peru, Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador — began cracking and showing its first signs of a possible split given Bogota and Lima’s anxiousness, and Brussels’ pressure, to sign an agreement.

Colombia and Peru (Ecuador was still vascillating) made clear that they were ready to go on with the negotiations with the Commission, even at the risk of losing Bolivia, one of CAN’s founders, as a member of the bloc.

Bolivia’s position on intellectual property rights, on the one hand, and biodiversity, on the other, had earlier put a damper on Colombia and Peru’s drive to sign a deal with the US, and is now affecting that to reach one with "the 27".

Colombia’s new chief negotiator for the EU-CAN agreement, attorney Ricardo Duarte, bluntly says that Bolivia’s position on patenting genetic information is the blockage point faced by negotiators. "Colombia and Peru want to regulate biodiversity to fight biopiracy. For that, we need to protect genetic and biological resources and traditional knowledge. Bolivia says that this issue is not covered by Andean regulation and that dealing with it through an agreement means changing the status of Andean law. We don’t agree with this," Duarte said.

In line with other "Global Europe" documents, the main aims of the European negotiators have been focused on biodiversity, intellectual property rights and natural resources. For that reason, a first condition of the EU negotiators was that the Andean countries submit text on intellectual property rights and "sustainable development", in which Colombia and Peru insisted on including the issue of biodiversity. The Bolivian negotiators, on the other hand, said that texts could be presented on those aspects of intellectual property and sustainable development on which there were agreements, while biodiversity should continue to be discussed at the regional level. The Peruvians and Colombians responded that it should be an absolute requirement to include biodiversity in the negotiations. While prone to let Colombia and Peru go ahead, Ecuador wouldn’t take position on the matter.

When reporting back to Brussels that there was no agreement on this, the European Commission decided to postpone the fourth negotiating round and raised the possibility of excluding Bolivia from the "trade" negotiations and only including it in the "cooperation" and "political" dialogue. The situation peaked during the EU-Latin America summit in Lima, when European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson got upset and publicly mentioned to the Bolivian representatives the possibility of leaving Bolivia out.

Bolivia’s position, and response, has been to participate in all three areas of discussion, failing which there wouldn’t be bloc to bloc negotiations. Bolivia also argues, however, that it has always said it would not sign a Free Trade Agreement with Europe and that its own approach to trade should be respected.

Europe holds that this demand is unacceptable since it would set a precedent for its future negotiations. A possible short term scenario is to separate out the trade negotiation but still following the mandate for bloc to bloc negotiations. This is impossible without excluding Bolivia.

Repercussions in Brussels

The repercussions of this strong confrontation of positions reached the European Parliament. When learning about Mandelson’s remarks in Lima, where the Commissioner basically said that the Andean countries have to sign an FTA with the EU or leave the negotiating table, Helmut Markov, German MEP and Secretary to the Parliament’s International Trade Commission, said the EU’s attitude toward the CAN "cannot be to accept what we impose on them or to disintegrate. Commissioner Mandelson has no authority to break up the Andean Community nor to impose any FTA on them."

Markov said, "It is obvious that the Andean countries are going through new and complex processes, and that they face real difficulties to control the often devastating action of transnational corporations and investors."

"The urgency today, in Latin America and the world, is to promote peace, guarantee access to food and water, reduce inequalities, protect the environment and stop climate change. If the European Commission thinks that including an FTA in the negotiations of an Association Agreement with Latin America is an absolute priority, they are very wrong," the German MEP said in Brussels.

Markov believes that the future direction of the talks could take several possible paths: "We can move on the political dialogue and the cooperation leg. Regarding the trade chapter, we could leave it aside or propose something better or complementary. The European Union should be creative and show interest in real problems and act in respect and support for regional integration processes," he said.

Colombia’s negotiator says his country aims to play its last cards in September, when a new negotiation round would take place. "We want to do our best to go there as a bloc. If it doesn’t work, we’ll have to see what happens," he said.

 source: Radio Mundo Real