Chronological Record of Chrysotile Debate at the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention (COP3)on October 10, 2006 in Geneva, Switzerland
At the beginning of the debate on adding chrysotile asbestos to a list of hazardous substances (Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention) on October 10 (Tuesday), the Conference Chair President Yue reminded delegates of the relatively long period of consideration of chrysotile by the Convention; he detailed several years worth of consultation and consideration of this issue by the Interim Chemical Review Committee, the Chemical Review Committee, the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee at its Tenth (INC 10) and Eleventh Sessions (INC11) and the Conference of the Parties (COP2) in 2004 and (COP3) 2006.
President Yue asked delegates whether legal and procedural requirements had been met for the inclusion of chrysotile on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) list. Posing four questions on the Secretariat's compliance with the Convention, President Yue requested that delegates consider these questions before commenting on wider issues arising from the PIC listing of chrysotile.
Canada, the first delegation to comment, aggressively disregarded the Chair's discussion framework baldly stating:
The Conference of Parties is a policy body comprising governments. Regarding agenda item 5e chrysotile at this time Canada does not support the listing of chrysotile asbestos.
Although the Chair attempted to return to a technical discussion about due process, asbestos producing and consuming countries followed Canada's lead and, pursuing economic and political interests, put further nails in the Convention's coffin.2
Ukraine agreed that all the procedural requirements had been respected, but drew attention to, what it claimed were, improper circumstances in which some of the country notifications had been made. Stressing the need to take decisions based on solid scientific data, Ukraine did not agree that science supported the listing of chrysotile.
Switzerland agreed that due process had been followed.
Oman requested the Secretariat produce a resume of the most important conclusions by the World Health Organization regarding chrysotile.
Responding to this request, Sheila Logan of the Secretariat of the Rotterdam Convention said this had already been done and was contained in the documentation received by delegates.
Chile said that all the legal and procedural matters had been fully met and that chrysotile should be listed.
Australia agreed that procedures had been followed.
Norway agreed that procedures had been met and chrysotile should be listed.
Kyrgyzstan agreed with Canada and Ukraine and said that although all procedures had been respected, they would like to proceed on the basis of consensus.
Uruguay said that the science presented and formal requirements completed combined to validate the inclusion of chrysotile on Annex III.
Sudan praised the excellent work done by the Secretariat in complying with all the requirements and said the substance met all the criteria for listing and therefore should be included in Annex III. The delegate warned that a failure to include chrysotile would set a bad precedent for the Rotterdam Convention.
Tanzania agreed that the legal and procedural requirements had been met; science also justified the inclusion of chrysotile on Annex III: the precautionary principle should apply in COP decisions.
Liberia supported Tanzania's comments and agreed that chrysotile should be listed.
Nigeria agreed that all legal requirements and procedures had been complied with and supported chrysotile PIC-listing. The delegate said that all the African delegates had, in a meeting earlier that day, agreed that chrysotile should be listed; two African representatives, present in Geneva as observers for asbestos producers, did not agree with the consensus of the group of African countries.
Alleging that the science was not categorical, India said that experiments had not been done on the hazards of pure chrysotile. We are, the Indian delegate said undertaking several studies on the hazards of pure chrysotile. We strongly support the position of Canada and therefore do not support the listing of chrysotile.3
Argentina said chrysotile should be PIC listed.
Senegal agreed with Nigeria highlighting the major health aspect of chrysotile use and supporting PIC listing which would provide Senegal with necessary information to safeguard the health of people working at the Senegal asbestos-cement factory.
Iran said that the lack of proper alternatives to asbestos and careful testing of non-asbestos substitutes could result in the use of substances more dangerous then chrysotile. Agreeing with the statements made by Ukraine, Iran said that more science is needed.
New Zealand agreed that due process had been carried out. Extensive risk assessment by several nations had proved, beyond doubt, the toxicity of chrysotile; this opinion had now been confirmed by the World Health Organization.
Cote D'Ivoire agreed that chrysotile should be listed.
Although Iraq is not a party to the Convention, an observer speaking on behalf of Iraq pointed out how useful asbestos-cement roofing materials are. Iraq called on the Chemical Review Committee to suggest commercially viable non asbestos-cement alternatives.
President Yue again reminded delegates that the PIC listing of chrysotile does not constitute a ban on asbestos sale or purchase.
An observer from Zimbabwe said that Zimbabwe supported the position of India, Canada, Ukraine, Iran and Kazakhstan.
Indonesia supported Canada and wished to defer further discussion until the 2008 meeting.
Russia criticized the apparent lack of appreciation of the fact that that chrysotile was not the same as other forms of asbestos. Russia said that many questions remained unresolved and raised the spectre of the hazards of the non-asbestos substitutes. Concluding his remarks, the Russian delegate said the time is not yet ripe for a categorical decision on chrysotile.
Peru's position was that chrysotile should not be included.
The position of Niger was equivocal as the Niger delegate initially said that Niger wanted to see chrysotile PIC-listed, as did all the other African countries, but he then said that asbestos was needed in construction materials in hot countries such as Niger.
The European Community said that all procedures had been met for listing chrysotile.
Switzerland said that all procedures had been met for listing chrysotile.
Ukraine returned to the problem of alternative products saying: If we include chrysotile on list of banned substances, we open the door to other substances infinitely more hazardous as long as no full assessment of substitutes has been done, using them instead of chrysotile is risky. He said that the IARC review carried out in 2005 had found that non-asbestos alternatives were unsafe. Ukraine has analysed world scientific literature and found no epidemiological data to testify to the health risk to the population of chrysotile use.
Australia said that all procedures had been met for listing chrysotile.
Chile agreed that chrysotile should be listed and pointed out the Ukraine had misunderstood the purpose of PIC-listing which was not, as Ukraine asserted, to ban the use of listed substances but to oblige exporting nations to supply information as specified under the Rotterdam Convention. PIC-listing of chrysotile would encourage research into substitutes.
Norway said that all procedures had been met for listing chrysotile and pointed out the seriousness of not listing chrysotile after full compliance with the rules of the Rotterdam Convention. Not listing chrysotile, Norway said, constituted a missed opportunity to get much needed information into the hands of importing countries.
Argentina said that all procedures had been met for listing chrysotile.
The Dominican Republic said that all procedures had been met for listing chrysotile.
Uruguay reiterated the point that PIC listing did not constitute a ban on use; including chrysotile on Annex III would empower developing countries to make informed decisions.
Kenya was anxious for chrysotile to be listed as the information which would then be provided would be useful to inform Kenyan consumers.
As the precautionary principle was at the very heart of the Rotterdam Convention, Togo supported the inclusion of chrysotile; this would be a positive step for developing countries.
President Yue recapped the responses to the procedural questions he posed at the beginning of the chrysotile discussion. The vast majority of countries which responded agreed that due process had been carried out, President Yue said; the requests for information on substitutes made during the debate were out of order as the availability of safer substitutes was not mandated under Convention rules.
Canada reiterated their opening statement saying: This is a policy-making body; we have a politically-based point and the process is relevant to our policy discussions.
President Yue lamented the fact that although the majority of parties agreed that procedural and legal requirements had been met and that chrysotile should be included on Annex III, some delegates were not in the position to agree to inclusion. Being mindful of the importance this issue had for the future of the Convention, President Yue hoped to find a way to resolve the stalemate. A Friends of the Chair (FOTC) group would be constituted with a maximum of 10 parties to explore the implications of this impasse for the Rotterdam Convention. This Group would, said President Yue, need to consider why not listing chrysotile is not a dangerous precedent for the Convention.
Volunteering to be part of the FOTC process, Canada, once again, displayed an arrogant disregard of protocol. Reminding delegates that as Canada would continue to block progress, this effort was doomed to fail, the Canadian delegate said: Canada does not support the decision for listing chrysotile. Japan also volunteered to be part of FOTC saying that its national experience underlined the hazardous nature of asbestos use. Ukraine said that the aims of the Rotterdam Convention precluded a solution of this dilemma as non-asbestos substitutes were more hazardous then chrysotile: If we ban chrysotile, we violate the first article of the Rotterdam Convention and expose populations to unjustified risk. There are different types of asbestos and the occupational risk of asbestos use can be eliminated through the 'controlled use' of asbestos.
The FOTC Chair was Andrea Repetti (Argentina); delegations volunteering to take part were: Canada, the European Community, Chile, Australia, India, Sudan, New Zealand, Ukraine and Japan.
After an hour of heated debate, the discussion on the inclusion of chrysotile was brought to a close.
October 17, 2006
1This record is based on contemporaneous notes taken during the debate rather than an exact transcription of the English translation.
2 Delegates from Canada, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Peru, India and the Russian Federation, along with asbestos industry representatives, opposed the listing of chrysotile. See: Earth Negotiations Bulletin 10 October 2006: http://www.iisd.ca/chemical/pic/cop3/
3 We are reliably informed that the Government of India has launched a project entitled: Implementation of Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent Procedures Study of Health and Environmental Hazards Resulting from use of the Chrysotile Variety of Asbestos in the Country. It is understood that funding for this project is coming from the Indian asbestos industry.