Against a background of heightened global awareness of the destructive potential of chemical and biological weapons, representatives of 40 countries and the European Commission met in Paris this week to strengthen defences against the proliferation of these weapons. The meeting was the annual plenary of the Australia Group, a body dedicated to the adoption, implementation and enforcement of cutting-edge measures to counter the spread of technologies and materials that could assist states of concern and terrorist groups in obtaining or developing such weapons.
At the 2007 plenary, the Australia Group welcomed Croatia as a member - recognition of the strength of Croatia’s domestic controls on technology related to chemical and biological agents.
Participants shared information on proliferation attempts that had been detected during the past year, and on strategies used to deal with these cases. Examination of these helps implement consistent detection and counter-measures by Group members, and can lead to proposals for strengthening the Australia Group’s control lists. In this regard, the Group considered suggestions for inclusion on its control lists of several new biological agents. The Group agreed to amend its animal pathogens list to clarify the coverage of controls on Mycoplasma mycoides. In addition, the Group decided to strengthen the factors it takes into consideration for the addition of chemicals to the control lists. In recognition of rapid international developments in the field of synthetic biology, Australia Group members agreed to pay particular attention to synthetic biological agents with a view to formulating an appropriate Group response.
The Australia Group plenary welcomed measures by some participants to strengthen their catch-all controls, and in a first for export control regimes, agreed that participants should consider, where appropriate, the activities of brokers and intermediaries as factors in determining whether an export license should be granted. The Group also adopted enhanced measures to deal with Intangible Technology Transfers (ITT). Australia Group members noted that the speed, security and utility of contact between members had been enhanced by a new secure communications system.
The Australia Group plenary noted that its control lists continued to be an international benchmark for best practice controls on chemical and biological agents, being used increasingly as a guide for international action in this area, including in the coverage and application of relevant UN Security Council Resolutions such as UNSCR 1540 and UNSCR 1718. The Australia Group plenary again emphasised its commitment to ensuring that non-proliferation export controls did not hinder legitimate trade and technical cooperation in the chemical and biological sectors.
International acceptance of Australia Group controls and practices are in part a result of the Group’s extensive outreach to non-members and other international bodies. The Australia Group plenary agreed to continue such an active outreach program in 2007-08. The Group also agreed to revamp its public website to make it more accessible and user-friendly, and adopted a new design for a promotional brochure, which will become available in coming weeks.
Further information on the Australia Group is available at www.australiagroup.net.