National government representatives will be meeting this week to prepare for Council conclusions on the Commissions proposed Mercury Strategy, expected to be finalised during the meeting of Environment Ministers on 24 June.

Campaign groups are urging governments to maintain their commitment to ban mercury exports by 2011 at the latest in light of the fact that some countries – notably UK, Germany and Poland – are seeking delays until international measures for controlling trade are taken. This is unlikely to happen soon as the US and other countries are blocking global treaties.

“EU leadership is needed in this area to boost efforts to reduce global trade and the role of mercury in the global economy,” said Elena Lymberidi, Zero mercury campaigner at the EEB. “Over 120,000 tonnes of mercury from EU mercury-cell chlor-alkali plants are expected to be dumped on developing countries over the next 10 – 15 years if an export ban is not put into place.”

The EU exports more mercury generally, and more to the developing world, than any other region of the world. Between 2001 and 2003, the EU exported more than 3,000 tonnes of mercury to non-OECD countries. In the same period, Spain and the UK exported 470 tonnes of mercury to India alone, accounting for most of that country’s imports.

According to campaign groups, most of this mercury is destined for either battery production or use in small scale gold mining. It is estimated that as much as 95% of all mercury used in small scale mining is released into the environment. As developing countries rarely have the same level of safety equipment, workers and their families are likely to suffer substantial exposure.

“The EU needs to keep to the promise made to the international community for an export ban in the near future. 2011 is already three years later than originally proposed by the Luxembourg Presidency as a starting date for the ban. NGOs have been calling for the earlier date of 2008,” said Michael Bender of the Ban Mercury Working Group.

By David Hopkins

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