UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Supporters of a world arms trade treaty said significant progress had been made as nations concluded the first round of talks on Friday on a pact meant to regulate the $55 billion global weapons market.
All U.N. countries had now accepted the principle of a treaty, delegates said.
Arms control campaigners say one person every minute dies as a result of armed violence, and a convention is needed to prevent illicitly traded guns from pouring into conflict zones and fuelling wars and atrocities.
After years of debate, the U.N. General Assembly last October authorized formal talks. The past two weeks have seen the first of four preparatory sessions, with a four-week conference planned for 2012 to negotiate a treaty.
Supporters aim to set common rules for international arms sales — from rifles to fighter planes — to replace a patchwork of national laws riddled with loopholes that make it easy to buy weapons to fuel conflict.
A paper issued by conference chairman Roberto Garcia Moritan of Argentina after the talks said the goal was to “prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit transfer, production and brokering of conventional arms.”
Key issues in the negotiations will include the criteria governments will have to fulfil to get a green light for arms transactions and mechanisms to monitor compliance.
Some countries have been slow to commit to a treaty. Major arms producers Russia, China, India and Pakistan were among 19 nations that abstained in last year’s General Assembly vote, and delegates said Pakistan, Iran and Egypt were among nations still hesitant, concerned the rules could be politicized.
But French delegate Eric Danon told reporters: “The principle of an arms trade treaty is now agreed by all the countries, even if some countries made reservations on some aspects ... That’s the main achievement of this session.”
Diplomats said it was still not guaranteed that the 2012 conference would produce a treaty, and even if it did, it was unlikely to put a complete stop to rogue governments and militants seeking black market options.
Western delegates said a shift in support of a treaty by the United States, which controls between one half and two thirds of global arms sales, had been critical in getting negotiations under way.
Washington agreed to join the drafting process only on condition that it be run on the basis of consensus — effectively giving it, and all other countries, a veto.
The principles drafted by Garcia Moritan say national governments would continue to regulate domestic arms sales — a stipulation essential for the United States, where the right to private gun ownership is a sensitive domestic political issue.
Nevertheless, President Barack Obama’s decision to back the talks reversed the stance of the previous Bush administration, which had argued that national controls were better.
Advocacy groups welcomed the progress made at the U.N. talks so far but urged member states to develop a draft treaty before the next preliminary session in February 2011.
“While much work remains to be done ... a majority of states has clearly recognized the need for the treaty to reduce the human suffering caused by the absence of global standards and irresponsible transfers of arms,” said Maria Pia Devoto of Argentina’s Association for Public Policy.
Editing by Todd Eastham