27 November 2003, Rome/Geneva -- Armenia has become the 50th country to ratify the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, triggering the 90-day countdown to the treaty's entry into force.

"Thanks to the Rotterdam Convention, we now have an effective system in place for avoiding many of the deadly mistakes made in past decades when people were less aware of the dangers of toxic chemicals," said Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

"This new regime offers its member governments, particularly in developing countries, the tools they need to protect their citizens, clean up obsolete stockpiles of pesticides and strengthen their chemicals management. Governments need to become members as quickly as possible so that they can reap these benefits and participate in shaping key decisions that must be taken next year", he said.

Reducing the risks associated with pesticides

"Inappropriate pesticides and their misuse still threaten health and environment in developing countries" said Jacques Diouf, Director-General, UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

"We recognize that, in meeting the increased demand for food production, pesticides will continue to be used. The Rotterdam Convention provides countries with a major tool to reduce the risks associated with pesticide use," he said.

"Implementation of the Convention will help countries to control the availability of pesticides that are recognized to be harmful to human health and the environment and of highly toxic pesticides that cannot be handled safely by small farmers in developing countries. The treaty promotes sustainable agriculture in a safer environment, thereby contributing to an increase in agricultural production and supporting the battle against hunger, disease and poverty," Dr. Diouf said.

A first line of defence

Jointly supported by FAO and UNEP, the Rotterdam Convention establishes a first line of defence against future tragedies that may be caused by hazardous chemicals.

The Convention enables importing countries to decide which potentially hazardous chemicals they want to receive and to exclude those they cannot manage safely. Most of the Parties of the Rotterdam Convention, so far, are developing countries.

When trade is permitted, requirements for labelling and providing information on potential health and environmental effects will promote safer use of chemicals.

The Convention starts with 27 chemicals but five more pesticides have already been flagged for inclusion, and many more substances are likely to be added in the future.(*)

Some pesticides covered by the Convention, such as monocrotophos and parathion are extremely hazardous and can present a severe threat to the health of farmers in developing countries.

The first meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention will take place in Geneva in late 2004.

At its first meeting the COP will decide on including chemicals in the Convention that have been added during the past several years to the interim PIC procedure, establish a Chemical Review Committee that will evaluate future chemicals for the Convention's list, adopt the rules of procedure and address issues such as dispute settlement, compliance, financial rules, and arrangements for the permanent Secretariat.

The pesticide market

Some 70,000 different chemicals are available on the market today, and around 1,500 new ones are introduced every year. This poses a major challenge to many governments who must attempt to monitor and manage these potentially dangerous substances.

Many pesticides that have been banned or whose use has been severely restricted in industrialized countries are still marketed and used in developing countries.

(*)The Convention covers the following 22 hazardous pesticides: 2,4,5-T, aldrin, captafol, chlordane, chlordimeform, chlorobenzilate, DDT, 1,2-dibromoethane (EDB), dieldrin, dinoseb, fluoroacetamide, HCH, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, lindane, mercury compounds, and pentachlorophenol, plus certain formulations of methamidophos, methyl-parathion, monocrotophos, parathion, and phosphamidon. Since September 1998 five additional pesticides (binapacryl, toxaphene, ethylene oxide, ethylene dichloride and monocrotophos) have been added to the interim PIC procedure.

It also covers five industrial chemicals: crocidolite, polybrominated biphenyls (PBB), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), polychlorinated terphenyls (PCT) and tris (2,3 dibromopropyl) phosphate.

Erwin Northoff
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53105

Michael Williams
Information Officer, UNEP
(41) 22 917 8242/8196/8244
cell. (+41) 79 409 1528