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Rotterdam Convention on safely marketing chemicals comes into force, UN says

Rotterdam Convention on safely marketing chemicals comes into force, UN says

The Rotterdam Convention, a labelling agreement enabling countries to decide which potentially dangerous chemicals they want to import or to exclude, became legally binding on its parties today, two United Nations bodies said.

"This treaty will enable developing countries to avoid many of the mistakes made in the richer countries, where the misuse of chemicals and pesticides has too often harmed or killed people and damaged the environment," said Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Jacques Diouf, the Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said the pact "will help countries to avoid using pesticides that are recognized to be harmful to human health and the environment and highly toxic pesticides that cannot be handled safely by small farmers in developing countries."

Jointly promoted by UNEP and FAO, the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade initially lists 27 hazardous chemicals.

As many as 15 more pesticides and industrial chemicals, including some forms of asbestos, will be considered for inclusion at the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Geneva from 20 to 24 September, UNEP and FAO said.

Some 70,000 different chemicals are being marketed and another 1,500 new ones are introduced every year. Many pesticides that have been banned or restricted in industrialized countries are still being used in developing countries, they said.

In another development, UNEP announced that Barcelona, Spain, would host World Environment Day (WED) 2004, held annually on 5 June and focusing this year on seas and oceans.

Welcoming the offer from the Barcelona City Council, the Spanish Government and the Catalan Autonomous Government, Mr. Toepfer said unlike the land, where concepts of ownership and management have long been established, "the oceans have been viewed as wilderness areas, owned by no one and free for all."

"That was fine in a world, now long ago, where a coastal mega-city might have been a few thousand rather than 10 million souls," he said. "But the growth in the global population, where more than 40 per cent now live by the coast, allied to our abilities to hunt faster and further for ever greater quantities of marine-living resources, means we can no longer treat the seas and oceans as free for all, uncared for and unmanaged."