At the upcoming UN Environment Program (UNEP) Governing Council in Nairobi in May, it is likely that delegates will vote to start the process to change the current voluntary Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedures for chemicals and pesticides into a legally binding convention.
UNEP and UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) representatives have stated that they would like to see negotiations on the new convention completed by 1997. However, given the sentiment of participants at a December 1994 UNEP-FAO meeting in Geneva, the limited scope and short time-line may not be realistic.
Rather, it is likely that many delegates will push to expand the convention to include prohibiting export of pesticides, chemicals and possibly pharmaceuticals that are banned domestically; banning global production and trade of the most dangerous chemicals; and promoting alternatives to toxic chemicals.
Under the FAO Prior Informed Consent procedures for pesticides which came into effect in 1989, countries may restrict import of certain pesticides. In 1990, UNEP incorporated the same PIC provisions covering all chemicals into the London Guidelines for Exchange of Information on Chemicals in International Trade; FAO and UNEP operate the scheme jointly.
Although more than 300 chemicals and pesticides are now on the list of substances banned or severely restricted for human health or environmental concerns in one or more countries, only 12 pesticides and five industrial chemicals have officially entered the PIC procedure.
While there was widespread support at the December meeting to develop a binding convention on PIC, there was also keen interest in going beyond PIC. Issues discussed included export bans, global production and trade bans of particularly hazardous products, toxic release inventories, and non-toxic alternatives to PIC and other chemicals.
Discussion was charged from the outset when Denmark and Malaysia proposed that the new convention prohibit parties to the convention from exporting chemicals which are banned, or not available for sale or use domestically. A majority of countries, including nearly all non-OECD country delegations, present at the December meeting supported the Danish-Malaysian proposal.
Global phase-outs of both production and trade of some of the most dangerous chemicals were seen as necessary to prevent companies prohibited from exporting banned products from simply relocating their production facilities to other countries — generally to poorer countries, where standards may be less strict, wages lower and environmental and human health impacts more severe.
Participants at the Geneva meeting also discussed the need for the new PIC convention to ensure that the public and governments have access to information on use and release of toxic substances by companies through "toxic release inventory" programs.
Another area of concern was the need for technical assistance that would provide adequate, up-to-date information on alternatives to PIC-listed pesticides and other toxic chemicals, and to ensure that adequate infrastructure exists to implement the PIC program. Delegates also supported the development of poisoning registries and collection of import/export data by active ingredient.
As primary recipients of banned and severely restricted chemicals and pesticides, it is critical that non-OECD countries actively participate in the convention negotiating process, starting with the May UNEP Governing Council meeting. Countries and corporations that are significant producers and exporters will be attending and will play a major role in fighting against attempts to increase the scope of the PIC convention.
[From Global Pesticide Campaigner.]