Plan to limit asbestos trade fails

"Canada's objection to listing chrysotile is embarrassingly self-interested," said a statement from WWF, in a clear reference to the Canadian role as the world's third-largest producer of asbestos and the top exporter.

The Toronto Star
November 19, 2003

Plan to limit asbestos trade fails
WWF blames Canada, Russia for blocking U.N. proposal. Both countries big producers of chrysotile for auto parts.

GENEVA—Efforts spearheaded by the European Union to establish strict rules limiting the international trade in asbestos failed yesterday because of resistance from key producers Canada and Russia.

Officials at a United Nations meeting, called to extend a list of toxic substances that can only be exported with advance government clearance from an importing country, said there was no agreement on including chrysotile, the main form of asbestos.

The officials declined to give details of the closed-door discussions, but the global environmental protection body WWF-International accused the Canadian and Russian delegations of "leading a revolt" to block the action.

Health experts and many scientists say chrysotile, which represents 94 per cent of world asbestos consumption, is a major agent of cancer and other fatal diseases because its fibres can be inhaled and stick to lung linings.

It has been banned in the 15-nation EU, Australia and Chile. Many other countries, including the United States, Brazil, Argentina and Egypt, which restrict its use, are considering similar moves.

"Canada's objection to listing chrysotile is embarrassingly self-interested," said a statement from WWF, in a clear reference to the Canadian role as the world's third-largest producer of asbestos and the top exporter.

There was no immediate comment from negotiators on either side of the argument, but in the past Canadian officials have argued that chrysotile — used in automobile brakes, gaskets and some armaments — is less dangerous than substitutes.

Canada and Russia — with backing from smaller producers like Ukraine, China, Zimbabwe, India, Indonesia, South Africa and Colombia — were able to block action because decisions under the U.N.'s 1998 Rotterdam Convention require consensus.

A statement from Canadian WWF official Julia Langer said the country's stance in the latest row "makes a mockery of the (Rotterdam) Convention's intent, which is shared responsibility for health and environmental protection between exporters and importers of harmful substances."

The pact — officially the Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure on trade in hazardous chemicals and pesticides — is based on the list, and in 2001 its own chemical review committee said all forms of asbestos should be included.

Yesterday, negotiators agreed to include on the list four of the five asbestos types remaining outside the convention's coverage but left out chrysotile.

Reuters News Agency


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