The Illegal Trade in Chemicals

Ineffective regulation

The lack of understanding of the provisions of the existing international conventions makes for challenges in implementation and enforcement. The reports of the Parties of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions reveal the need for clarity in specific terms and labelling requirements. The Parties’ definitions of pesticides, for example, may or may not include biocide, which can be classified under two categories – pesticides and industrial chemicals. This lack of clarity makes it difficult to identify the competent authorities and to proceed with implementation mechanisms (BRS Secretariat 2019b). Another challenge arises when trade is relatively easy between countries with different regulations. The insecticide carbofuran, for instance, has been banned in Serbia since 2012, but was purchased there via the Internet, and exported from Turkey, Bosnia, Ukraine, Moldova and Israel among other countries where its sale is still allowed. The use of carbofuran ended up poisoning a large number of protected birds in Serbia (Republic of Serbia, Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Protection 2017). In recognition of this type of challenge, pesticide regulators in the Southern African Development Community and in the East African Community are working on regional collaboration for pesticide management including implementation of regional strategies to address highly hazardous pesticides. Clear procedures help the States deal with transboundary shipments of waste and chemicals. The prior informed consent procedure with strict requirements for transboundary movement of hazardous waste and other waste under the Basel Convention helps Parties grant permits for the export, import and transit of hazardous waste. Other conventions include similar, albeit much narrower, mechanisms. While custom officers may look out for specific chemicals, other chemicals of concern not subject to the PIC mechanismmay slip past.

The combination of high disposal costs in wealthy nations and poor regulation in developing nations drives an illegal market for trade in chemicals fed in part by chemicals that are permitted under convention exemptions and diverted for other purposes. Methyl bromide, for example, is exempted from the Montreal Protocol ban for quarantine and pre- shipment applications, and may be acquired on the illegal market for other applications. When States have agreed to allow many exemptions, such as those permitted for perfluorooctane sulfonate and related compounds under the Stockholm Convention, customs officials have an even more challenging task in determining whether the chemical will be used for an acceptable purpose. The effectiveness of the international regulation of trade in harmful chemicals is also hampered by the failure of States to enforce their obligations under the agreements. Despite the complete ban on certain POPs under the Stockholm Convention, for example, many POPs continue to be manufactured by specific States that have been unable or unwilling to convert the Convention into domestic action (UNEP 2013). Similarly, in violation of their obligations under the Montreal Protocol, not all countries have fully implemented import and export licensing systems that control methyl bromide. The regulation of the trade in illegal chemicals is also challenging due to limited domestic export controls. Many countries permit the export of chemicals that have been banned for domestic use. The United States, for example, does not require pesticides intended solely for export to be registered. Some unregistered pesticides that are exported have been banned or severely restricted in the United States (US EPA 2017).

The Illegal Trade in Chemicals


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