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UN Conference fails to stop ongoing Toxic Waste Trade

Written By Gopal Krishna on Friday, June 27, 2008 | 7:44 AM

Basel Ban Amendment* vetoed by India, Japan & others
Considerations of Commerce Frustrate Remedial Measures for Imminent Environmental Collapse from hazardous waste dumping
Bali/New Delhi: The UN Conference on Hazardous Wastes Movement from Developed countries to Developing countries failed to prohibit trade in toxic wastes as countries like India and Japan refused to ratify the Basel Ban Amendment aimed at barring the transboundary trade in of toxic waste. It also invited the World Health Assembly to consider a resolution related to the improvement of health through safe and environmentally sound waste management.

Representatives from 170 countries deliberated on linkages human health and waste management for five-days on the Indonesian resort island of Bali to fight the illegal trans-boundary movement of hazardous waste and promote the safe and environmentally sound management of waste within each country.

A declaration issued at the end of the five-day conference said, 'We are fully aware that wastes, if not managed in a safe and environmentally sound manner, may have serious consequences for the environment, human health and sustainable livelihood'.
The declaration said, 'Therefore we reaffirm our commitment to prevent illegal trans-boundary movement of hazardous wastes, to minimize the generation of, and to promote the safe and environmentally sound management of wastes within each country.' Most of the delegates from the developing world except some like India wanted the Basel Convention to put complete export ban on hazardous wastes.

Namo Narain Meena, Minister of State for Forest and Environment who came to the conference just to make a 3 minute intervention outraged all who have already ratified Basel Ban Amendment through his advocacy of the continuation of hazardous waste trade by saying that India supports “free movement of recyclable scrap metal” and agreed with Japan’s position on hazardous waste trade that has been severely criticized by environmental groups. Japanese Economic Partnership Agreements with India, the Philippines, and other Asian countries tantamount to “waste colonialism.” Meena’s statement highlights how India is taking backward and regressive steps with regard to environmental concerns since

It is noteworthy that the 7th round of negotiations on the Japan-India Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) was held from May 12 to 15 May, 2008 in New Delhi. The next 8th round of negotiations will be held in Tokyo in July, 2008.

Last year, it was revealed that Japan had exported nearly 2000 tonnes of trash, excluding e-waste, to India in four years between 2003 and 2006. Japan exported at least 270 tons of toxic wastes, including prohibited items such as zinc ash, lead acid battery wastes and copper cables coated with the PVC. Commodities prohibited for trade under other international agreements too had been freely exported by Japan to India. Japan exported more than 500 tons of DDT and 20 tons of capacitor fluid containing polychlorinated biphenyl. The Commerce Ministry had refused to part with any meaningful information regarding the India-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement and said that the Ministry had decided not to bring in the clauses of the agreement to public discussion. It now appears that the Ministry of Environment's proposed amendment to the Hazardous Wastes (Management & Handling Rules) also emerged from similar considerations.

Also last year, the Ministry of Commerce abandoned its decision to have a registration scheme for overseas suppliers of metal scrap. As per the EXIM Policy 2002-2007, import of second hand goods is restricted and can be imported only with the permission of the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT). The DGFT had announced a plan in March 2006 to introduce a registration system covering imports of unshredded ferrous and non-ferrous scrap. But with the proposed amendment from Ministry of Environment, hazardous waste gets classified as hazardous material euphemistically referred to as recyclable metal scrap, and it would fall in the category of second hand materials. The DGFT will be able to allow even hazardous waste since as per the new notification a waste would be deemed as non-waste. In this way toxic waste will reincarnate itself as a reusable or recyclable product.
When the DGFT had proposed its registration scheme covering imports of scrap, the US Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries and the Indian scarp steel industry had objected to it by arguing for self-regulation to ensure no hazardous waste materials are shipped.

The DGFT appears to have caved in to their pressure and instead suggested self-regulation to the industry, according to information received from the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) meeting in Warsaw, Poland during 22-23 October 2007. BIR is the international trade federation representing the world’s recycling industry, covering in particular ferrous and non-ferrous metals etc.

The position of the Ministry of Commerce (the DGFT) is, in effect, in complete contrast to the revised EU Waste Shipment Regulations introduced in July 2007, to which all EU member nations need to comply. The new EU rules now require an tracking document to accompany shipments of non-hazardous materials designated as “waste”, including recyclables. But the scrap industry feels that the complexity of information required by the new EU rules was “totally illogical”, complaining that it did not offer clear environment benefit.

In effect, the proposed rules are a formal announcement of globalisation of the toxic chemical crisis. Exporters in rich countries have been consistently seeking to export toxic scrap to India and likewise, there has been a similar trend amongst businesses in the India to import such waste. Self-regulation is no alternative to corporate accountability.

UN’s Basel Convention on the control of transboundary hazardous waste and its disposal, adopted in 1989, currently has 170 member parties. The Convention entered into force in 1992 that stopped short of banning toxic trade. Ban Amendment to the Basel Convention adopted in 1995 requires the export and import of all hazardous waste to be banned to protect human health and the environment against their adverse effects. The Basel Convention article requires three-fourths of members to ratify the convention in order to enforce the amendment. So far, only 63 countries have ratified the ban amendment

A paper issued at the conference by Indonesian environment minister in his capacity as the president of the UN conference of parties to the Basel Convention called on all parties to expedite the ratifications of the Basel Ban Amendment to help protect the environment and human health from toxic waste.

Environmental organizations like Basel Action Network, Ban Asbestos Network of India, Platform on Shipbreaking have repeatedly called on the Basel parties to enforce the Basel Ban Amendment immediately to prevent further environmental damage by the ongoing toxic waste trade.

For Details: Web: www.basel.int, www.ban.org
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