Projects / Past Projects

Trade monitoring for biological dual use items

Project Period: August 2008 - December 2014
Funding: German Foreign Office
Project officer: Gunnar Jeremias

The failure of the verification protocol to the BWC in 2001 left the world without a mechanism to assess compliance with the bioweapons ban. Since a co-ordinated approach is unlikely to be agreed by State Parties in the foreseeable future, external actors in the recent past developed a number of ideas how solutions for certain components of the overall problem could look like. At the Hamburg Research Group from 2004, the concept of the global trademonitoring for dual-use items in biotechnology is being developed. The drafted trademonitoring aims to detect conspicuous aggregations of transfers as indicators of non-compliance to the non-proliferation provision in the BWC. This shall be achieved by the analysis of open source trade data (volume, value, time and destination of transfers). Public databases are today fed by such data generated by the World Customs Organisation’s (WCO) commodity classification system that covers almost the entire world trade. Use of data generated by this so called Harmonized System (HS) might also entail benefits for the implementation of UNSC Resolution 1540 and provide indications of countries’ capabilities in the biological field.

The Process at the World Customs Organisation

Precondition for the effective implementation of a trade monitoring is however an amendment of the HS to individually identify more BW relevant dual-use items. In 2007 the WCO Secretariat permitted the Research Group to submit a proposal for better identification of a list of items (this catalogue was compiled from items lists of the Australia Group, the UNMOVIC-list and the list prepared by the Ad Hoc Group negotiating the BWC's verification protocol).

The proposal was set on the agenda of the Harmonized System Review Sub-Committee (HSRSC) in November 2007, where HS-member states instructed the Secretariat to translate our proposal into "HS-language" and to deal with the proposal further in the next sessions of the decision making body, the HS Committee (HSC) and in the HSRSC. The Secretariat prepared a document showing the code numbers currently applicable to the items on our list. After discussions in the HSC in March 2008, the Secretariat developed a proposal for amending the HS nomenclature so that these items would have individual codes.

During the HSRSC session in May 2008, Canada asked for not continuing the discussion to prevent precedence by further dealing or finally deciding on an issue introduced by a non(state) member. The process was officially suspended on the session of the HSC from 22 September - 3 October 2008.

However, the suspension does not necassarily mean an everlasting stop. Now financed by the Foreign Office of Germany the project was revived in spring 2012, starting with an survey analysing global trade in growth media among the 25 world’s biggest Biotech-Countries. By making use of UN COMTRADE’s publicly accessible database, the Hamburg Research Group downloaded 1.500 data records, visualized by 750 graphs. In each graph reported exports of growth media from one country to another are compared against the reciprocally reported imports.

The data was presented in a workshop held at the BWC Meeting of States Parties 2012. This workshop, organised in cooperation with the ISU, aimed on two different goals: At first to inform BWC States Parties about the potential use of trade data to enhance transparency and secondly to exchange experiences with stakeholders from other treaty regimes (agenda and presentations).

In 2013 on the initiative of several BWC-States the ISU addressed WCO with a new proposal (based on the content of the one of 2008) for a HS-amendment. The upcoming meeting of the HSC in September 2013 will take decision on the adoption of the suggestions.