At the conclusion of its annual meeting in Paris (2-5 June), the Australia Group reinforced its determination to prevent the spread of chemical and biological weapons (CBW) in the face of existing and emerging threats by agreeing to a series of new measures to further strengthen export controls.
The Australia Group is an informal network of countries that consult on and harmonise their national export licensing measures on CBW-relevant items as a complement to their obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention. Participants aim to prevent any inadvertent contribution from their industry and research community to CBW programs. Currently, 33 countries - from Europe, the Asia-Pacific and the Americas, plus the European Commission - participate in the Group.
Reviewing developments over the past year, participants stressed that the importance of preventing the spread of CBW was greater than ever before in the 18-year history of the Group. Efforts by terrorists to acquire CBW were identified as presenting a significant challenge, in addition to ongoing concerns over state weapons programs.
New measures agreed by the Group include:
- Addition of 14 biological agents (human pathogens) to the Biological Control List.
- Endorsement of a cooperative program of action for more effectively engaging countries in the Asia-Pacific region on CBW-related export control issues - a response, in part, to specific requests from several countries in that region.
- Approval of a practical guide for compliance and enforcement officers to help them more efficiently detect, identify and prevent illegitimate transfers of items controlled by the Australia Group.
- New procedures for improving transparency and enhancing information sharing among members.
Discussion at the meeting was wide-ranging and advanced considerably issues of abiding interest, including the desirability of controlling new precursor and other types of chemicals, as well as dissemination devices for biological agents. Participants identified additional chemicals that would be considered for inclusion on the control list over coming months.
Participants also reiterated their commitment to fair and transparent trade in chemical and biological materials for peaceful purposes. They agreed that non-discriminatory application of national export licensing measures allows legitimate trade to expand unhampered by proliferation fears. As parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention, participants reaffirmed that such measures were fully consistent with all of our obligations under these conventions.