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The Australia Group is a group of countries that fights the spread of chemical and biological weapons, e.g. also maintains a list of viruses, bacteria and toxic substances and their DNA, towards all members of the International Gene Synthesis Consortium check the DNA that they receive.

Fighting the spread of chemical and biological weapons

The Australia Group is an informal arrangement which aims to allow exporting or transshipping countries to minimise the risk of assisting chemical and biological weapon (CBW) proliferation. The Group meets annually to discuss ways of increasing the effectiveness of participating countries’ national export licensing measures to prevent would-be proliferators from obtaining materials for CBW programs.

Participants in the Australia Group do not undertake any legally binding obligations: the effectiveness of their cooperation depends solely on a shared commitment to CBW non-proliferation goals and the strength of their respective national measures. Key considerations in the formulation of participants’ export licensing measures are:

  • they should be effective in impeding the production of chemical and biological weapons;
  • they should be practical, and reasonably easy to implement, and
  • they should not impede the normal trade of materials and equipment used for legitimate purposes.

All states participating in the Australia Group are parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), and strongly support efforts under those Conventions to rid the world of CBW.

Goals of the Group

The principal objective of Australia Group participants’ is to use licensing measures to ensure that exports of certain chemicals, biological agents, and dual-use chemical and biological manufacturing facilities and equipment, do not contribute to the spread of CBW. The Group achieves this by harmonising participating countries’ national export licensing measures. The Group’s activities are especially important given that the international chemical and biotechnology industries are a target for proliferators as a source of materials for CBW programs.

The Origins of the Australia Group

In early 1984, a United Nations investigation team found that Iraq had used chemical weapons (CW) in the Iran-Iraq war in violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol, and that at least some of the precursor chemicals and materials for its CW program had been sourced through legitimate trade channels. In response, several countries introduced export controls on certain chemicals that could be used to manufacture CW.

These controls suffered from a lack of uniformity, and it soon became apparent that attempts were being made to circumvent them. This led Australia to propose a meeting of the countries with export controls with the aim of harmonising their national licensing measures and enhancing cooperation. The first meeting of what subsequently became known as the Australia Group took place in Brussels in June 1985. At that meeting, the 15 participating countries and the European Commission agreed that there was value in exploring how existing export controls might be made more effective to prevent the spread of CW.

The Group has met regularly since then, and annual meetings are now held in Paris. The scope of the export controls discussed by the Group has evolved to address emerging threats and challenges. Evidence of the diversion of dual-use materials to biological weapons programs in the early 1990s led to participants’ adoption of export controls on specific biological agents. The control lists developed by the Group have also expanded to include technologies and equipment which can be used in the manufacturing or disposal of chemical and biological weapons.

The number of countries participating in the Australia Group has grown from 15 in 1985 to 41 plus the European Union.

Genetic Elements and Genetically-modified Organisms

Here is the full list: List of Plant Pathogens for Export Control and LIST OF HUMAN AND ANIMAL PATHOGENS AND TOXINS FOR EXPORT CONTROL.

The definition:

  1. Genetic elements that contain nucleic acid sequences associated with the pathogenicity of any of the microorganisms in the Core List.
  2. Genetically-modified organisms that contain nucleic acid sequences associated with the pathogenicity of any of the microorganisms in the Core List.

Technical note: Genetically-modified organisms includes organisms in which the genetic material (nucleic acid sequences) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination, and encompasses those produced artificially in whole or in part.

Genetic elements include inter alia chromosomes, genomes, plasmids, transposons, and vectors whether genetically modified or unmodified, or chemically synthesized in whole or in part.

Nucleic acid sequences associated with the pathogenicity of any of the micro-organisms in the list means any sequence specific to the relevant listed micro-organism:

  • that in itself or through its transcribed or translated products represents a significant hazard to human, animal or plant health; or
  • that is known to enhance the ability of a listed micro-organism, or any other organism into which it may be inserted or otherwise integrated, to cause serious harm to human, animal or plant health.

Australia Group Membership

Countries interested in applying for Australia Group membership should, in the first instance, forward a third person note with an expression of interest to the Australia Group Chair. The Chair will then inform AG participants and seeks their views and/or list the item for discussion at the next AG plenary meeting. After AG participants agree to consider the application, the Chair will liaise with the candidate country for provision of a formal application with detailed information on the country’s legislation and policy of export controls, relevant to the purposes of the AG, to ensure it addresses the criteria for participation. The candidate country must meet all the criteria and no exceptions or exemptions are made.

AG participants will then scrutinise the application and may take up specific issues and questions with the candidate country bilaterally or through the AG Chair. The Chair will seek advice from AG participants on the status of their scrutiny of the application and determine when the AG is ready to take a decision as to whether the candidate country should be admitted to the AG. The decision is made by consensus i.e. all AG participants must agree to admit the candidate country.

Criteria for participation include, but are not limited to:

  • A commitment to prevent the spread of CBW proliferation, including being a party, in good standing, to the Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention.
  • Being a manufacturer, exporter or transshipper of AG controlled items.
  • Adopting and implementing the AG Guidelines for Transfers of Sensitive Chemical or Biological Items.
  • Implementing an effective export control system which provides national controls for all items on the AG common control lists and is supported by adequate licensing and enforcement regimes.
  • Creating legal penalties and sanctions for contravention of controls and being willing to enforce them.
  • Creating relevant channels for the exchange of information including: accepting the confidentiality of the information exchange; creating liaison channels for expert discussions; and creating a denial notification system protecting commercial confidentiality.
  • Agreeing to participate in the AG in a way that will strengthen the effectiveness of the AG in preventing CBW proliferation.

Note: This criteria is part of the AG’s long-standing policy on membership.


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I like to share the great things I discover daily while researching and working in the field of Synthetic Biology.

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