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Convention on Trade in Dangerous Chemicals and Pesticides: Final Round of Talks Started

Brussels/Nairobi, 9 March 1998 - More than 100 countries are expected to conclude negotiations this week on a legally binding Convention on international trade in hazardous chemicals and pesticides.

The intergovernmental meeting started today in Brussels and will finish on Saturday, 14 March, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced today.

The new legally binding treaty will limit the trade in hazardous chemicals and pesticides such as PCBs, Lindane, Aldrin, Dieldrin and harmful pesticide formulations including substances such Monocrotophos and Parathion.

The trade in extremely hazardous chemicals and pesticides is currently subject to the voluntary Prior Informed Consent procedure (PIC) in which 154 countries are participating. It is jointly administered by FAO and UNEP.

Under PIC, 22 harmful pesticides and five industrial chemicals that have been banned or severely restricted in a number of countries should not be exported unless agreed by the importing country. The Convention will replace the current voluntary system.

Countries agreed during previous negotiations that the substances subject to the voluntary PIC procedure will be included in the Convention. The Convention will legally require exporters to notify recipient countries of exports of hazardous substances subject to national bans or severe restrictions.

It is expected that additional industrial chemicals and pesticides will be added to the PIC procedure. In the European Union, the PIC procedure is already mandatory and violators can be fined.

Many chemicals and pesticides are harmful to humans, domestic animals and ecosystems. They may cause cancer or birth defects, or enter the food chain and accumulate in the tissues of people or animals. Chemicals such as asbestos which is still exported around the world are now known to be carcinogenic.

According to UNEP, the past use and trade of these chemicals has left a legacy of lasting problems. Several PIC substances whose use has been banned and phased out in industrialized countries are still widely used in developing countries and in countries with economies in transition. DDT continues to be released into the environment where it poisons wildlife.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are highly toxic to humans and are found in the blood and tissue samples of people thousands of kilometers from where these chemicals were released. Every day scientists discover previously unknown dangers posed by certain chemicals. A PIC treaty is thus vital for reducing the risk to the world's health and environment.

FAO warned that many pesticides, such as DDT, chlordane and heptachlor, which have been banned or whose use has been severely restricted in Europe and North America, are still marketed and used in developing countries. Also, many old, often highly toxic, organophosphorus pesticide formulations continue to be used there because of their low price.

The global market for pesticides continues to grow and is estimated at $30 billion for 1996. Companies based in Western European are currently the world's largest chemical producers. The fastest growing markets are in developing countries, particularly in Latin America and Asia. Africa is increasingly using pesticides on export crops.

Many developing countries have reported acute poisoning because highly toxic pesticide formulations cannot be handled safely, FAO said. Protective clothing is often too expensive and, in many cases, cannot be used due to the climate in these countries. In order to reduce the risks caused by pesticides, FAO assists developing countries in reducing pesticide use through Integrated Pest Management.

Studies on the application of organophosphates have demonstrated, for example, that during normal spraying, farmers are exposed to contamination by absorption of residues on clothing through the skin. In China alone, 27 provinces in 1995 reported a total of 48,377 poisoning cases, including 3,204 fatalities. More than 7,500 of these cases were mostly attributed to normal agricultural use of parathion and methamidophos. Poisoning from parathion occurs even in industrialized countries despite stringent protection.

"The new Convention promises to create a first line of defense against chemicals risks by empowering governments with the information and procedures they need to monitor and control cross-border trade", said Mr. Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director. "But because trade is just one avenue for the spread of highly dangerous substances, we must build on this success through further agreements to prevent dangerous chemicals like persistent organic pollutants (POPs) from being released into the environment where they pose a threat to people and to wildlife," he said.

"The legally binding PIC procedure will help protect farmers in developing countries from exposure to highly toxic pesticides. Nevertheless, at national level further measures are required to use pesticides safely and in a rational manner. The challenge for world agriculture is to produce more food with less pesticides, in a sustainable way," said Abdoulaye Sawadogo, FAO Assistant Director-General.

A diplomatic conference will be held later this year in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, attended by Ministers and Government Representatives to adopt and sign the new Convention. The meeting in Brussels will be held at the building of the European Parliament; it is being financed by the European Commission.

For more information, please contact:
FAO Brussels, tel. (+32-2)2038852.
Or, Mr. Michael Williams, of UNEP, in Geneva at
tel.(+41-22) 979 9242/44, fax. (+41-22) 797 3464,
e-mail: mwilliams@unep.ch.

UNEP News Release 1998/10

Monday 30 Mar 1998
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