Socio-economic considerations under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety: Insights for effective implementation

The inclusion of the socio-economic aspects in environmental decision-making has been practiced since the early seventies. The interactions between the environment and society, the growing demand for social responsibility and the pledge towards sustainable development are some of its drivers. However, in multilateral environmental agreements, particularly in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), the integration of socio-economic matters in decision-making has been difficult and contentions. Article 26 of the CPB relates to socio-economic considerations arising from the impact of living modified organisms (LMOs) on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. Contrary to the opinion of some scholars and the biotechnology industry, this article argues that Article 26 of the CPB: (a) recognises the sovereign rights of States in taking into account socio-economic considerations when making a decision of import of LMOs; (b) it has a wide scope since it deals with broad issues, namely conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity; and (c) is a crosscutting article within the CPB since, when included in decision-making, it relates to several operational provisions. Accordingly, the implementation of the CPB would be incomplete and not consistent with its objectives if socio-economic considerations are not appropriately and timely addressed in biosafety decision-making processes.