Rome, 3 November 2008 - Over 120 countries party to the Rotterdam Convention agreed to add the pesticide tributyltin to a global trade "watch list", but were unable to reach consensus on the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos and the pesticide endosulfan during negotiations here last week.
The conference reaffirmed that governments have an obligation to use the Convention's information-sharing mechanism to inform others about their national decisions on the import and management of hazardous chemicals.
"Trade comes with rights and responsibilities, and the discussions this week have shown the strong commitment of many countries to this spirit of reciprocity," said Bakary Kanté, Director of the Division of Environmental Law and Conventions, United Nations Environment Programme. UNEP, along with FAO, jointly manages the Convention secretariat.
The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade promotes transparency and information sharing about potential risks to human health and the environment. Its so-called PIC list currently contains 39 hazardous substances, including all other forms of asbestos.
"International instruments such as the Rotterdam Convention are tools to assist countries in sound chemicals management; they are not an end in themselves but a means to an end," said James Butler, FAO Deputy Director-General at the opening of the high-level segment of the meeting.
Under the Convention, exports of chemicals and pesticides on the PIC list require the prior informed consent of the importing country. This gives developing countries in particular the power to decide which potentially hazardous chemicals they want to receive and to exclude those they cannot manage safely.
Exporting countries are responsible for ensuring that no exports leave their territory when an importing country has made the decision not to accept the chemical or pesticide in question.
"Clearly the chemical footprint of our modern economies is expanding exponentially today," said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. "The transition towards a greener economy touches upon the responsibilities that we have as societies, as governments and as international institutions to look at how the use of chemicals empowers development and not undermines it, not least through the impact it has on the health of our societies."
During the conference, many governments expressed serious concern about the failure to list chrysotile asbestos. The World Health Organization made a statement reminding participants that chrysotile is a human carcinogen and that at least 90,000 people die every year of asbestos-related diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer directly linked to asbestos.
Chrysotile asbestos is the most commonly used form of asbestos, accounting for around 94 percent of global asbestos production. It is widely used in building materials, such as asbestos cement, pipe and sheet, and in the manufacture of friction products, gaskets and paper.
Tributyltin (TBT) compounds are pesticides used in antifouling paints for ship hulls and are toxic to fish, molluscs and other aquatic organisms. The International Maritime Organization has moved to ban the use of antifouling paints containing TBT compounds.
Endosulfan is a pesticide widely used around the world, particularly in cotton production. It is hazardous to the environment and detrimental to human health, particularly in those countries where safeguards are not adequate.
Some 70,000 different chemicals are available on the market today, and around 1,500 new ones are introduced every year. This can pose a major challenge to regulators charged with monitoring and managing 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.