EU signs new hazardous products convention

Copyright 1998 European Report
September 16, 1998

The European Union proceeded, on September 11 in Rotterdam, to sign a new international Convention on improved regulation of trace in hazardous chemicals and pesticides, the so-called Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Convention. The Convention, whose final negotiating session took place from March 9 to 14 in Brussels, will initially cover 22 pesticides and five industrial chemicals.

The Convention was signed in Rotterdam during the Ministerial Conference organised by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Some 95 countries signalled their agreement to the Convention during the Brussels session and it will have to be ratified by at least 50 states before it enters into force. The aim is to allow importing countries to be able to decide, in the light of all the relevant factors, what products they want to and are able to allow entry, in view of these countries' capacities to manage, use, store and even process the products. It will also promote shared responsibility and cooperative efforts among Parties of the Convention for the risk management of chemical substances and pesticides and their sound use. It will establish a first line of defence against future tragedies by preventing unwanted imports of dangerous chemicals, particularly in developing countries, which will then have a real decision-making power in this area.

The new Convention makes the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure mandatory, even though hitherto it has been applied on a voluntary parties by the Parties. The provisions state that hazardous products and pesticides that are banned or strictly regulated in at least two countries may be exported only with the specific consent of the importing country. The exporter is also required to provide full information on the status of the product in question (total ban or strictly regulated), as well as the extent to which it is hazardous, on the use and precautions to take during use. The Convention requires exported products to be labelled in the same way as for exactly the same product used for domestic consumption in the exporting country. The Convention will initially cover 22 pesticides and five industrial chemicals, but provision has be made for it to be supplemented without the need for a full renegotiation of the provisions.

Speaking during the signing ceremony, Environment Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard, who signed the Convention on behalf of the EU together with the Austrian Environment Minister, Mr Bartenstein, President of the Council, underlined that "the new Convention is a key step in ensuring the implementation of the Rio Conference, particularly Chapter 19 of Agenda 21, which aims to promote and enhance the sound management of chemicals throughout the world". She also called upon both developed and developing countries "to use the Convention as an opportunity to give a higher profile to projects related to chemical management" and underlined "the important role of NGOs in evaluating and reporting the problems associated with chemicals in developing countries and in helping them to fulfil their obligations under the Convention".

The Convention will cover the following 22 hazardous pesticides; 2.4,5-T, Aldrin, Captafol, Chlordane, Chlordimeform, Chlotobenzilate, DDT, Dieldrin, Dinoseb, I,2-dibromoethane (EDB), Fluoroecetamide, HCH, Heptachlor, Hexachlorobenzene, Lindane, Pentachlorophenol and Mercury compounds and certain formulations of Monocrotophos, Mothamidophos, Phosphamidon, Methly -parathion and Parathion. It will also cover the following 5 industrial chemicals: Crocidolite, Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBB), Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCP). Polychlorinabed Terphenyls (PCT) and Tris (2, 3 dibromopropyl) phosphate.

Chemical industry acclaims Convention.

The International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA - to which CEFIC, the European Chemical Industry Council, belongs) has welcomed the new Convention. In a press release issued on September 11 in Rotterdam, the chemical industry expressed broad support for an agreement it has long championed and which it claims chimes with its commitment to a responsible development policy. The industry has approved the Convention provisions reproducing the scope, the risk evaluation approach and the transparency procedure already covered by the PIC procedure. The latter has hitherto been applied on a voluntary basis by the committed parties. The Convention is a key ingredient to ensure safe management of chemicals, but, says the industry, it cannot hope to replace a valid national programme of rules for chemicals. The industry is said to be particularly pleased with the balance the Convention strikes between the obligations of the exporting and importing countries and cannot see its implementation leading to market disruption.

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