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Brussels, 5 February 2002

Commission proposes EU ratification of Rotterdam Convention on hazardous chemicals

The European Commission has decided to propose to the Council a Decision to ratify the Rotterdam Convention procedure for handling hazardous chemicals in international trade. Countries participating in the Rotterdam Convention have the right to refuse imports of certain dangerous chemicals. Exports of such chemicals can only take place after a green light ('prior informed consent' or PIC) from the importing country. In addition the Convention establishes a system of information exchange about dangerous chemicals. The Convention is therefore of particular benefit to developing countries, since it gives them the necessary information and the power to decide which chemicals they want to receive and to exclude those they cannot manage safely. At the same time, the Commission has decided to propose detailed rules for the implementation of the Convention's provisions, replacing current EU arrangements for the import and export of dangerous chemicals.

Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström said "The Convention is a significant step towards improving the international regulation of hazardous chemicals and pesticides. 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."

The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure for certain hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade was adopted in September 1998 in Rotterdam, and was signed by all Member States and the Community. The Convention has been signed by 73 parties and so far been ratified by 18 (50 ratifications are needed for entry into force).

Through the PIC procedure, which currently covers 26 pesticides and 5 industrial chemicals or groups of chemicals, the Convention establishes a first line of defence against possible problems by enabling importing countries, particularly developing countries, to decide which chemicals they want to receive and to exclude those they cannot manage safely. The Convention also includes information exchange provisions. The first is the requirement for a Party to inform other Parties of each national regulatory action banning or severely restricting a chemical falling within the scope of the Convention. The second is the requirement for a Party that plans to export such a chemical that is banned or severely restricted for use within its territory to inform the importing Party that export will take place, before the first shipment and annually thereafter (the so-called export notification procedure).

The Convention also promotes shared responsibility and co-operative efforts among Parties of the Convention for the risk management of chemical substances and pesticides and their sound use.

The Convention will eventually replace the voluntary PIC procedure managed so far jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The voluntary procedure, in which over 160 countries are participating, has already been implemented in a legally binding way in the Community through Council Regulation 2455/92, which will have to be amended in order to be compatible with the requirements of the Convention. The principal changes needed concern the timing and frequency of prior export notifications, and the level of information required, and the introduction of provisions relating to technical assistance to developing countries to help them develop their infrastructure and capacity to manage chemicals.

The proposal for a new Regulation also reflects the ambition of the Commission and Member States to go beyond a strict transposition of the Convention. Proposed provisions going beyond the scope of the Convention include: extending the scope of the export notification requirements to a wider range of chemicals; requiring the explicit consent of the importing party for chemicals that are banned or severely restricted in the Community before export can take place; the possibility of an export ban for certain chemicals and articles that are prohibited within the Community; and requiring all dangerous chemicals to be appropriately labelled when exported.

These additional requirements will not prevent the smooth functioning of the core provisions of the Convention, which allows Parties the right to take more stringent action provided that such action is consistent with the Convention and is in accordance with international law. The Commission's approach will also reaffirm the EU's commitment towards ensuring proper and effective control in international trade and use of dangerous chemicals at the global level.

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