The discussions took place in
at the fifth Conference of the Parties (COP 5) to the Rotterdam Convention, which ran from 20-24 June. In addition to chrysotile asbestos, parties were tasked with considering the inclusion of the pesticides endosulfan and aldicarb, as well as the herbicide alachlor in Annex III. Geneva
While endosulfan was the only one of the four to become a new addition to the list, it was the asbestos debate that monopolised much of the attention last week in
Asbestos continues to be used in the construction industry of various developing countries, notably
China, India, and the . Philippines argues that as long as appropriate safety precautions are observed, the mineral can be used without adverse health effects. But critics argue that such measures are regularly not taken in developing countries, where health and safety standards are typically more lax. Canada
The addition of asbestos to Annex III also played a prominent role when parties last met at COP 4 in 2008. But in the voting process,
India - Canada’s primary asbestos trading partner - actively lobbied to keep the substance off the list, thereby allowing to remain silent on the issue (see Bridges Trade BioRes, 14 November 2008). Canada
Last Wednesday, however,
surprised many delegates by announcing it had reconsidered its previous opposition and would now support the listing. India ’s new position on the issue prompted several asbestos exporting countries to reconsider their stance as well; one by one, opposition to the listing soon disappeared. Finding itself alone on the issue, Delhi unilaterally blocked consensus. The move reportedly provoked hostility from some delegates. Canada
In the hours following
Ottawa’s opposition, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and Vietnam again reconsidered their position and realigned themselves with . Canada Ukraine and Kazakhstan maintain there is a lack of scientific data to support listing the substance on Annex III, while has not fully explained its position. Canada
When pressed on the issue on Thursday,
insisted that the country has “actively promoted safe and controlled use of the substance domestically and internationally.” But with the use of chrysotile asbestos virtually banned across Canada Canada, critics have accused of acting irresponsibly. Ottawa
When the ruling Conservative government was pressed on the issue by opposition parties back in
, Industry Minister Christian Paradis staunchly defended the government’s position. Ottawa
“We know that chrysotile [asbestos] can be used in a safe fashion in a controlled environment,” Paradis told Canadian parliament last week.
But with Paradis’ electoral district being home to
’s last remaining asbestos mine, some critics have accused him of promoting policy out of self-interest. Canada
In a final move to express their displeasure at the blockage of asbestos,
- supported by the African Group - introduced a declaration by the EU and 66 countries stating that, in their trade practices, they will make every attempt to make information regarding asbestos hazards known. The Declaration also states the countries’ intent to ensure asbestos is ultimately listed in Annex III. Delegates had been discussing potential alternatives for dealing with recommended chemicals that do not manage to achieve a consensus. While the declaration is external to the Convention itself, its existence is noted in the formal meeting report. Australia
Adopted in 1998, the Rotterdam Convention requires exporting countries to obtain prior informed consent (PIC) from importing countries before listed chemicals can be delivered. This is accomplished through the use of proper labelling, safe handling instructions, and the disclosure of any known restrictions or bans.
With the addition of endosulfan, there are now a total of 41 chemicals listed in the convention, including 30 pesticides and 11 industrial chemicals.
ICTSD Reporting; “Pic COP5 Highlights,” EARTH NEGOTIATIONS BULLETIN, 22 June 2011; “Canada blocks move to deem asbestos hazardous,” CBC, 22 June 2011; “Canada Asbestos Debate Rages On at Geneva Summit, Refuses To List Chrysotile As Hazardous,” CANADIAN PRESS, 23 June 2011.
Source: International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development.
27 June 2011