Marking its twentieth anniversary, the Australia Group met for its annual plenary in Sydney from 18-21 April. The plenary – the first to be held in Australia – was opened by the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer. The plenary noted the Group’s vital role over the past two decades in containing the spread of chemical and biological weapons and in rolling back aspects of the proliferation threat. In addition, it agreed important new measures to enhance participants’ export controls for preventing the acquisition and use of chemical and biological weapons and set a forward-looking agenda for tackling new and emerging challenges, including terrorism.
The Australia Group welcomed Ukraine as a new participant, bringing the total number of participating countries to 39 and the European Commission. With its large chemical manufacturing sector, Ukraine stands to make a valuable contribution to the effectiveness of the Group.
Recognition of Australia Group control measures as an international benchmark has grown considerably over the past year. Participants welcomed in this regard Israel’s recent announcement that it would adhere to the Group’s guidelines, which the Group encouraged all countries to voluntarily adopt. To encourage broader adherence to Australia Group measures, participants further developed outreach strategies based on targeted regional approaches. They also reiterated a willingness to assist countries to meet their UN Security Council Resolution 1540 obligations to establish effective export controls.
Addressing concerns over terrorists’ interest in dispersal devices for biological agents, participants agreed to add the most threatening aerosol sprayers to the biological equipment control list. Existing controls on pumps and genetically modified organisms were revised to assist enforcement and help exporters better understand their obligations. As part of the Group’s ongoing efforts to keep its common control lists up to date and scientifically relevant, participants also agreed to examine the addition of up to 25 more biological agents to the control lists.
To increase the timeliness and effectiveness of information sharing between participants, the Australia Group Information System was established as a secure electronic communication tool between participants. Participants also agreed to expand the Australia Group’s website by incorporating practical information on export control implementation and translating the site into the official UN languages.
The Australia Group agreed to conduct a survey of participants’ current brokering controls with a view to developing best practice guidelines. Tighter controls on brokering and other intermediary activity will assist participants to break up procurement activities, such as those undertaken until recently by the proliferation network operated by Abdul Qadeer Khan.
Discussions dealing with information sharing and enforcement provided clearer insights into proliferation behaviour by state and non-state actors, as well as practical measures for addressing it. A live documentary-style exercise for enforcement officials, drawing out some of the measures discussed at the plenary, was hosted by the Australian Customs Service on 22 April.
The Australia Group set itself an active and focused agenda for future work to enhance its role as an international bulwark against the spread of chemical and biological weapons in furtherance of the obligations of the Biological Weapons Convention and Chemical Weapons Convention. Issues of interest include expanding outreach activities with a more practical focus, combating terrorism through more effective awareness raising and stricter controls on sources, controlling brokering and other activities by intermediary agents, and addressing emerging technologies that could be applied to the development of chemical and biological weapons.
Participants also committed themselves to continue to ensure that non-proliferation export controls did not hinder legitimate trade and technical cooperation in the chemical and biological sectors.
Participants expressed their gratitude to Australia for its efficient and effective chairing of the Group over the past twenty years.
Further information on the Australia Group’s activities is available at www.australiagroup.net.