Rotterdam Convention gains momentum at Rome Conference

Delegates at the FAO/United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) conference held at FAO headquarters in Rome, July 12 to 16, moved forward in implementing the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for trade in dangerous chemicals. Their efforts have underlined the importance of protecting health and the environment in developing countries.The delegates, representing more than 100 countries, agreed to place two pesticides - binapacryl and toxaphene - on the PIC list of banned or severely restricted chemicals. The addition of these two chemicals brings the number of pesticides and dangerous chemicals on the PIC list to 29.

Adding these two hazardous chemicals to the PIC list was just one of the steps delegates took toward speeding up the implementation of the Rotterdam Convention, which was adopted in September 1998 and has been signed by 60 countries as well as the European Union. The conference also established an Interim Chemical Review Committee (ICRC) to make recommendations regarding the inclusion of additional pesticides or industrial chemicals to the PIC list. Delegates submitted four hazardous chemicals to the ICRC for review: bromacil, ethylene dichloride, ethylene oxide and maleic hydrazide.

Chemicals and pesticides placed on the PIC list cannot be exported unless the importing country is made aware of their dangers and gives its explicit consent. Included in the Rotterdam Convention are pesticide formulations that are too dangerous to be used safely by farmers in developing countries.

"Many farmers in developing countries cannot handle highly toxic pesticides safely and this convention will help to protect them," said Mr Niek Van Der Graaff, Chief of FAO's Plant Protection Service.

Binapacryl, for example, a fungicide and miticide, may cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pains, diarrhea and breathing difficulties. Toxaphene, widely known by its trade name Camphechlor, is an insecticide and rodenticide that has a high persistence in the environment. Toxaphene residues can travel great distances and accumulate in organisms that make up the food chain. When absorbed into the human body, toxaphene quickly spreads to the organs and concentrates in fatty tissues and muscles. It is highly toxic and can cause thyroid tumors and cancer.

In a unique arrangement, which draws upon FAO's strength in pesticide management and UNEP's expertise in chemical management, both organizations cooperate in providing the secretariat of the Rotterdam Convention. Mr James Willis, Director UNEP Chemicals, said that the Rotterdam Convention "is the first multilateral environmental agreement since 1994 and it was adopted two years in advance of the goals set in chapter 19 of Agenda 21." He added: "It offers greater protection to health and the environment - particularly in developing countries and countries with economies in transition - than the previous voluntary procedure."

Finland, Japan, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom announced contributions during the Conference towards the implementation of the interim period of the Rotterdam Convention, which is entirely dependent on voluntary donations. Additional funding will be required to meet budget estimates for 1999/2000.

Listen to or download an interview with Maria Celina de Azevedo Rodriguez, Chairperson of the FAO/UNEP International Conference on the Rotterdam Convention and the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure, on the outcome of the Rome Conference, 12 to 16 July 1999.

27 July 1999

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