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UN-backed treaty on hazardous chemicals to come into force in February

UN-backed treaty on hazardous chemicals to come into force in February

A new United Nations-backed treaty regulating trade in hazardous chemicals and pesticides and seen as a first line of defence against future tragedies, particularly in developing countries, will come into force in three months’ time following its ratification by its 50th member state, Armenia.

Armenia’s action triggered the 90-day countdown for the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade to become effective on 24 February.

“Thanks to the Rotterdam Convention, we now have an effective system in place for avoiding many of the deadly mistakes made in past decades when people were less aware of the dangers of toxic chemicals," the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Klaus Töpfer, said in a statement.

Jointly supported by UNEP and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Rotterdam Convention enables importing countries to decide which potentially hazardous chemicals they want to receive and to exclude those they cannot manage safely.

"This new regime offers its member governments, particularly in developing countries, the tools they need to protect their citizens, clean up obsolete stockpiles of pesticides and strengthen their chemicals management. Governments need to become members as quickly as possible so that they can reap these benefits and participate in shaping key decisions that must be taken next year", Mr. Töpfer said.

"Inappropriate pesticides and their misuse still threaten health and environment in developing countries," FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf added in a statement. "We recognize that, in meeting the increased demand for food production, pesticides will continue to be used. The Rotterdam Convention provides countries with a major tool to reduce the risks associated with pesticide use."

Most of the Parties of the Rotterdam Convention, so far, are developing countries. Many pesticides that have been banned or whose use has been severely restricted in industrialized countries are still marketed and used in developing countries.

Now, when trade is permitted, requirements for labelling and providing information on potential health and environmental effects will promote safer use. The Convention starts with 27 chemicals but five more pesticides have already been flagged for inclusion, and many more substances are likely to be added in the future.

Some pesticides covered by the Convention, such as monocrotophos and parathion, are extremely hazardous and can present a severe threat to the health of farmers in developing countries.

The first meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention will take place in Geneva in late 2004.