Towards 2030 and beyond; setting the standards for responsible trade

FAO’s Rotterdam Convention boosts social and environmental protection

September 2016, Rome – Up to two million chemical preparations are on sale around the world, according to the latest estimates, released in 2013. This makes the chemicals industry the world’s largest manufacturer, second only to the automobile sector. Annual sales are worth a startling $1.6 trillion.

But poor reporting and monitoring on a global scale means it is difficult to establish how much of this trade is dangerous to humans and the environment.

Initially inspired by a North-South dilemma in which wealthier countries with bans on certain life-threatening chemicals carried on selling them abroad – the Rotterdam Convention (RC) entered into force in 2004. Since its outset, in recent years South-South trade has increased between newly emerging economies, and the production of chemicals continues to rise, affecting poorer countries in particular.

Less-advantaged importing countries often lack the means to manage hazardous chemicals throughout their life cycle, from importation through use and safe disposal.

The work of the Convention – which is a multilateral treaty – aims to establish stronger social protection by generating awareness and encouraging countries to share responsibilities over the trade and use of hazardous chemicals. Its Secretariat, based not only in Rome but also at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Geneva, provides technical assistance to help Parties establish the necessary capacities to implement the main provisions of the Convention with the aim of managing chemicals safely at national level.

While some chemicals are banned or severely restricted in many countries, particularly those in industrialized regions; they are still exported to other countries, primarily in developing regions.

With tens of thousands of chemicals on the world market, governments have their hands full, especially as global trade expands each year. The improper use, inadequate storage and control, can lead to sick and absent farm workers, serious illness and death, environmental damage and expensive stockpile clean-up operations.

To promote shared responsibility, the RC serves as an early warning system that empowers governments to make informed decisions on importing of such hazardous chemicals.

All of this will be addressed at the latest meeting of the Chemical Review Committee (CRC) of the Rotterdam Convention (RC), held at FAO in Rome from 14-16, September 2016.

At the event, some 70 experts and observers will review at least five hazardous chemicals as potential additions to the “watch list” of substances considered unsuitable for export.

Two of the chemicals being debated are carbofuran and carbosulfan, each used to control pests affecting a multitude of different field crops. They have been used in a number of countries in the European Union (EU) to manage soil insects in areas where maize, sugar beet and sunflowers are grown. Carbofuran is also regularly used in Canada as well as a number of countries in the Sahel to grow fruit and vegetables. Those countries using the chemical reported that the pesticides were dangerous for human health and the environment and stopped using them.

The RC works in partnership with the Basel (BC) and Stockholm Conventions (SC), and together they try to help countries to manage hazardous chemicals throughout their life-cycle, with the ultimate goal of establishing sound and sustainable habits around the world.