“For half a century, ACA has been providing the world … with advocacy, analysis, and awareness on some of the most critical topics of international peace and security, including on how to achieve our common, shared goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.”

– Izumi Nakamitsu
UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs
June 2, 2022
Australia Group Concludes New Chem-Bio Control Measures
Share this

July/August 2002

By Seth Brugger

Meeting June 3-6 in Paris, members of the Australia Group concluded a number of new measures that significantly expand the group’s controls on the export of chemical and biological weapons-related goods and technology.

The 33 members of the group meet annually to coordinate their export control policies on items that importers could use in chemical or biological weapons programs. Members are expected to deny export license requests for items included on “control lists” when there is a concern that the items would be used in such programs.

Some of the new measures have been in the works since last year’s meeting in October, while others have been pursued for even longer. The events of September 11 and the anthrax-laced letter attacks that followed gave impetus to finalize the regulations, according to Western officials. “There was a great deal of willingness to expand the AG’s controls and to bring the Australia Group into the 21st century,” one official said.

Prior to the June meeting, the group had controlled chemical precursors, chemicals that can be used in chemical weapons production; dual-use biological equipment, which can be used for either weapons or civilian purposes; dual-use chemical manufacturing facilities, equipment, and related technology; plant pathogens; animal pathogens; and biological agents. At its latest meeting, the group added controls on biotechnology that could be used to make biological weapons production equipment. This addition controls “the equipment that can make the equipment,” the official explained.

Previously, the group’s control lists had been geared toward preventing states from acquiring militarily useful material. The group is now trying to increase its focus on terrorists, the official said. For example, at its latest meeting the group expanded its list of controlled toxins from 11 to 19 and lowered the size of exportable fermenters, which can be used to produce biological weapons.

These modifications “take into account that a terrorist doesn’t need to get the worst of the worst,” the official said. “All you need is something pretty bad and you can cause a lot of harm and a lot of panic. So, the expansion of the list is, at least in large part, in response to the need to look at the terrorist angle.”

The group also concluded a set of guidelines that outlines criteria for evaluating export requests and includes a “no undercut” agreement. Under this provision, members pledged not to approve a particular export to a specific country that another member had previously denied without first consulting with that member.

The guidelines also include a “catch all” requirement. This provision requires members to be able to regulate any export, regardless of whether it appears on the group’s control lists, if an importer could use it in a chemical or biological weapons program. Also, exporters in member states must inform their governments if they are aware that an importer intends to use any import in a chemical or biological weapons program. In such a case, the government will decide whether to control the export.

Members must now also be able be control the spread of technology by “intangible” means. For instance, a company could be required to obtain government authorization before transmitting abroad, by telephone or fax, technology that could be used in a chemical or biological weapons program.

The United States and most other participants already have “catch all” and intangible control measures in place, but the new requirements will force new members to establish the same controls and will help set standards for the group, according to a U.S. official. The Australia Group is the first export control group to require its members to implement such controls.

The group also initiated a process to make the review of its control lists more intense and “high profile,” the U.S. official said.