Light at the End of the Tunnel?
Parties to the UNs Rotterdam Convention (RC) on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade are being held hostage by vested interests who routinely stonewall attempts to regulate the international trade of dangerous chemicals and pesticides. Whilst the remit of the Convention to protect people and the environment from avoidable hazardous exposures is laudable, loopholes in its procedures have been exploited by stakeholding governments to prevent listing of substances on Annex III; once a substance is listed on this Annex it can only be exported with prior informed consent. Action on chrysotile asbestos has been blackballed eight times, carbosulfan three, fenthion four and acetochlor twice.1
To overcome the impasse, in 2022 the Governments of Switzerland, Australia and Mali submitted a proposal to the RC Secretariat: Proposal to amend Articles 7, 10, 11 and 22 of the Convention and to add a new Annex VIII which would provide an alternative to the requirement to obtain a consensus2 for the inclusion of a substance on Annex III with an option where consensus was not achievable to seek the backing of three quarters of the Parties to add the substance to a new Annex (Annex VIII). 3 As a result of this change in procedure, a veto by a handful of vested interests would no longer be able to frustrate the will of the majority of the 165 Parties to the Convention.4
The proposal seeks to preserve the consensus approach where possible but provide a safety mechanism for listing recommended chemicals that are vetoed by a small number of often conflict of interest Parties, against the will of the majority. It promotes the right to know principal for importing countries, especially low income and transition economy countries, alerting them that they are about to receive hazardous chemicals and thereby enabling them to protect workers and consumers.
Since Parties to the Convention were notified of the proposal, comments have been received from 10 Parties Argentina, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Guatemala, India, Kazakhstan, Madagascar, New Zealand and the Russian Federation and one Observer: the USA. It was to be expected that asbestos stakeholding countries and parties operating under their spheres of influence would be against the amendment; and so it proved with the two-page Russian response on January 16, 2023 noting that the changes were:
unacceptable, undermine the foundations for the functioning of the mechanisms of the Rotterdam Convention and the fundamental principle of consensus among the Parties to impose bans on international trade in certain types of chemicals and materials. 5
The comments from India were similar:
there is no need to introduce new provisions, which undermine the basic framework of the convention as the existing text of the Convention was purposefully designed to accept the expression of CONSENSUS in listing of chemicals under Annex III. The existing provisions fulfill the objective of shared responsibility and cooperative efforts among parties. The adoption of Annex VIII proposal would provide disproportionate advantage to a select group of Parties/ Regions to target the global trade on TBT [technical barrier to trade] measures.
A two-paragraph email from China dated January 17, 2023 was also disapproving:
the proposed new Annex VIII is relatively repetitive to Annex III, which is troublesome and burdensome for Parties in their future implementation, thus it may negatively influence the effective implementation of the Convention.
The two-page January 19th communiqué from the Government of Kazakhstan was adamant that the adoption of Annex VIII was inappropriate for several reasons:
there will be confusion and misunderstanding about the regulation and trade of these chemicals . The consensus which is [a] fundamental principle would be undermined. The Convention is the result of a balanced set of provisions agreed by the Parties as a unit, where consensus for listing in Annex III is at its pinnacle. The establishment of the new Annex would hinder this balance
Many of the objections raised by the dissenters were addressed in a four-page brochure and accompanying short video produced by the Parties sponsoring the amendment, explaining the reasoning and benefits of the proposal and its aim to improve the effectiveness of the Convention. The videos are available in English, French and Spanish on YouTube, and an English version of the brochure is available on the IBAS website.6 RC webinars on March 9 and 14, 2023 will provide the opportunity for the proponents and co-sponsors to provide additional information on the amendment proposal; during the question-and-answer sessions which follow, Parties will be able to voice their support or concerns.7
According to feedback received, the proposal seems to be gaining momentum as the number of co-sponsors continues to grow with the original sponsors of the amendment Switzerland, Australia and Mali being joined by Colombia, Burkina Faso, Georgia, Ghana and the Republic of the Maldives. Additional co-sponsors are considering plans to back the proposal in the coming weeks. It will be considered at the eleventh Conference of the Parties (COP11) to the Rotterdam Convention in May 2023.
February 21, 2023
1 Rotterdam Convention (RC). Chrysotile asbestos. Accessed February 17, 2023. The RC text did not include the blocking of chrysotile asbestos which took place at COP 10 in 2022. With the COPs listed (COPs 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) that makes eight times that the inclusion of chrysotile on Annex III has been stonewalled by asbestos stakeholders.
2 In general parlance consensus means general agreement but in the context of the RC consensus means unanimity.
3 RC Website. Proposal to amend Articles 7, 10, 11 and 22 of the Convention and to add a new Annex VIII. Accessed February 17, 2023.
4 Rotterdam Convention. Status of ratifications. Accessed February 22, 2023.
5 Rotterdam Convention. Proposed amendments. Amendment of the Rotterdam Convention (Article 21). Accessed February 20, 2023.
6 English language version of Proposal to amend the Rotterdam Convention brochure (revised February 2023).
Rotterdam Amendment Proposal - 2023 (English). Uploaded January 23, 2023.
Rotterdam Amendment Proposal - 2023 (French). Uploaded January 25, 2023.
Rotterdam Amendment Proposal - 2023 (Spanish). Uploaded January 25, 2023.
7 Rotterdam Convention. Proposal to amend Articles 7, 10, 11 and 22 of the Convention and to add a new Annex VIII. Accessed February 22, 2023.