European Commission proposes to ratify controls on imports and exports of hazardous chemicals

The European Commission announced on 5 February that it was to propose to the European Council a decision to ratify the Rotterdam Convention allowing nations to control the import of hazardous chemicals – a particular boon for developing countries.

The Convention, signed by 72 states in September 1998, allows participating nations to have the right to refuse imports of dangerous chemicals that they cannot manage safely under ‘prior informed consent’, and establishes a system of information exchange about such chemicals. The convention initially covers 27 pesticides and industrial chemicals that have been banned or severely restricted for health or environmental reasons by participating parties.

However, the convention does not apply to a number of substances, including narcotic drugs, radioactive materials, wastes, chemical weapons, pharmaceutical drugs and chemicals used in quantities not likely to affect human health and the environment if they are being imported for research or personal use.

The Commission is proposing that Europe should go further than the convention requires, calling for an extension of the scope of the export notification requirements to a wide range of chemicals, and requiring the explicit consent of the importing party for chemicals that are banned or severely restricted in the EC before export can take place. The Commission is also proposing an export ban for certain chemicals that are prohibited within the EC, and would like all dangerous chemicals to be appropriately labelled when exported.

“The convention is a significant step towards improving the international regulation of hazardous chemicals and pesticides,” said European Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström. “It will enhance the protection of citizens and the environment in all countries from the possible dangers resulting from trade in these substances. The Commission’s proposal goes further than the convention in important areas, for example by covering a wider range of chemicals. I now urge the Council to agree quickly on community ratification of the convention. In this way, the EU can help promote early entry into force of the convention.”

As well as the EC, the convention has now been ratified by 19 countries: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, El Salvador, Germany, Guinea, Hungary, Kyrgystan, Mongolia, The Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Panama, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Slovenia, Suriname and Switzerland. However, 50 ratifications are required for entry into force of the convention.

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