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Measures Intended to Facilitate Consensus (Agenda Item 5)[5]

24. The FAO Legal Counsel introduced the document which had been prepared following the request of the Commission that the Committee should consider the improvement of procedures to facilitate consensus in the formulation and adoption of standards. The document reviewed the current procedures and stressed that Codex texts should reflect a large international support in view of their relevance under the WTO Agreements. To achieve this objective, two options were proposed: retaining a simple majority for the adoption of standards with systematic recourse to practical arrangements to reach consensus; or the adoption of standards by a majority of two thirds, which would have the effect of strengthening the need for consensus before standards were submitted to the Commission.

25. Several delegations indicated that while not opposed to the application of a qualified majority in cases where voting was necessary, all efforts should be made to ensure that decisions were reached by consensus. Other delegations expressed their objections to a qualified majority as it would not facilitate consensus and might make it more difficult to adopt or amend standards and related texts; this would introduce additional delays into the process and discourage the undertaking of new work. The Delegation of India stressed the need for ensuring that the decision was representative in nature and to achieve this, proposed that in case consensus failed, efforts should be also made to reach consensus at the level of regional committees.

26. Some delegations stressed the difficulties of developing countries regarding the diffusion of information and attendance at meetings and recalled that the views of countries which could not participate in the meetings should be taken into consideration. Several delegations favoured further consideration of postal or electronically facilitated systems of voting, while other delegations were concerned that this would not allow for the transparency necessary in the decision process, as a full exchange of views on controversial issues was essential to come to an agreement.

27. The Committee had an exchange of views on the practical arrangements which would facilitate consensus. Some delegations supported the establishment of working groups or other informal mechanisms which might be useful to resolve controversial issues; however, the mandate of such groups should be clearly defined and the Committee recognized that the way principle of transparency in the discussions was essential. The Committee also recognized that the way by which Chairpersons of Committees ran meetings played an important part in achieving consensus and agreed that they should collectively attempt to provide guidance on practical measures that Committee Chairs could take to facilitate consensus.

28. Several delegations stressed that Committees should make sure that the proposals forwarded to the Commission for adoption reflected a consensus; the delegations which opposed a particular decision should present their objections clearly to facilitate discussion. It was also suggested that the procedures whereby one Member might request a vote should be reconsidered as such an important decision should reflect larger support within the Commission. It was also noted that a Guide on the Conduct of Plenary Meetings was in preparation.

29. The Committee identified other issues which would require further consideration: the definition of consensus; further consideration of alternative systems used by other international standards setting bodies; careful consideration of new work when it appeared that agreement could not be reached; the need to identify clearly contentious issues and to concentrate on them; clarity and precision of reports when dealing with controversial issues; the recognition of minority views; the possibility to postpone decisions when it appeared that no satisfactory compromise could be found.

30. The Committee agreed that, in order to focus more specifically on consensus in the decision process, the document should be redrafted in the light of the comments received and the above discussion for consideration at the next session.

[5] CX/GP 98/6, CRD 4 (Comments of CSPI); CRD 6 (Comments of France), CRD 9 (Comments of Thailand), Unnumbered CRD (European Community)

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