The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
 FORMER MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS, AUSTRALIA

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Media Release

Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer
5 October 2001

The Australia Group: Tackling the Threat of Chemical and Biological Weapons

At their annual meeting in Paris (1-4 October), the 33 countries from Europe, the Asia-Pacific and the Americas which constitute the Australia Group re-affirmed their commitment to strengthening national efforts to prevent the spread of chemical and biological weapons (CBW).

The Australia Group is an informal network of countries that consult on and harmonise their national export licensing measures on CBW items. Participants aim to prevent any inadvertent contribution to chemical or biological weapons programs.

Participants in the Australia Group condemned the callous terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September and observed one minute's silence in memory of the victims.

Participants expressed the resolve of their governments to prevent CBW proliferation, whether by state or non-state actors. Recalling that terrorist groups have used or tried to use chemical and biological agents in the past, participants agreed that the Australia Group has an important role to play in reducing the threat of CBW terrorist attacks.

During consultations the Australia Group reviewed developments in CBW proliferation over the past year and affirmed the continuing effectiveness of national export controls on dual-use items that can be used in CBW programs. In light of technological developments since its last meeting, the Group updated the common control lists that form the basis for harmonising the national measures of all participants.

Participants reiterated their commitment to fair and transparent trade in chemical and biological materials for peaceful purposes. They agreed that the non-discriminatory application of national export licensing measures allows legitimate trade to expand unhampered by proliferation fears. They urged all countries that are not participants in the Australia Group to implement similar national measures to prevent the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons. Participants expressed their willingness, on a national basis, to continue assisting others to improve the effectiveness of their export controls.

Participants welcomed Bulgaria to the Group. This brings total participation in 33 countries plus the European Commission.

All Australia Group participants are parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). These conventions legally oblige all states parties, inter alia, not to assist in any way the development and production of chemical and biological weapons anywhere. Participants re-affirmed the central role of national export controls in this regard.

Consistent with their commitment to transparency and public outreach, participants welcomed the establishment of the Australia Group website (www.australiagroup.net). Australia Group participants maintain an active outreach program aimed at discussing continuing CBW proliferation concerns and exchanging views regarding export controls. They agreed to continue promoting greater public awareness and understanding of the Group's activities in the lead-up to its next meeting in June 2002.

Media inquiries: Matt Francis (02) 6277 7500

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