The Illegal Trade in Chemicals

What to do about mercury

The Minamata Convention has resulted in the implementation of a range of regulations and restrictions related to the trade in mercury, and the higher costs and increased scrutiny associated with regulatory compliance have created an unfortunate incentive for traders to avoid official channels, particularly where enforcement is weak. In addition, the quickest and cheapest ways to deliver mercury to remote ASGM operations are often undocumented or illegal. In general, then, even the simplest measures to improve monitoring and reporting of mercury stocks and movements can make a big difference. But the transition to mercury-free ASGM calls for bold moves – legalization and regulation of ASGM as part of the formal economy. As in the pesticides section above, the structure for organizing the policy considerations concerning the illegal trade in mercury includes the categories of risk reduction, knowledge and information, governance, and enforcement. In the context of the increased scrutiny of the use of mercury for ASGM, illegal trade is expected to increase. Reducing ASGM mercury use will thus depend in large part on the willingness and ability of governments at the national, provincial and local levels in each ASGM country to be vigilant with regard to the mercury trade. At the same time, mercury source countries may be equally or even more responsible for encouraging illegal trade, and should assume a key role in controlling mercury supplies at the source, particularly at mercury mines, chlor-alkali facilities, and companies producing mercury as a by-product of mineral or gas processing. The Minamata Convention requires the phase-out by 2025 of the use of mercury in the chlor-alkali industry, and ensuring the implementation of the phase-out and supervising the disposition of the recovered mercury would complement and reinforce the other steps governments can take. Likewise, ongoing primary mercury mining should be phased out as quickly as possible, particularly in China, Indonesia and Mexico. In addition, further efforts to promote mercury-free mining practices might include: Risk reduction strategies • Building capacity and targeting financial resources to encourage mercury-free alternatives • Rewarding miners with tax incentives and other commercial benefits for using reducedmercuryormercury-freeprocesses

recording mercury imports and/or not reporting the statistics to the Comtrade database. The monitoring and reporting of mercury movements from source to end use and disposal need to be further improved so that the organizations charged with enforcing trade regulations are better informed, and countries need a well-considered structure for sharing relevant information among agencies and with other countries. Innovative uses of information technology such as blockchain may prove useful in tracking mercury movements and in identifying illegal trade. All the authorities concerned with the illegal trade in mercury can benefit from further research into the nexus of illegal gold mining, the trade in mercury and transnational organized crime. ASGM operators continue to rely largely on mercury, and many remain unaware of its toxic effects. Small-scale mercury-free mining processes exist but they are either unknown to many miners, or inconvenient for a number of reasons. Moreover, even where ASGM communities have been educated about the health and environmental risks of mercury, this knowledge has not led to a significant move away from the mercury process, mostly for economic reasons. While not ignoring the need for enhanced health and environmental awareness, the best approach to convince ASGM operators to change their practices, based on a range of project experiences worldwide, appears to include: 1) the legalization and regulation of ASGM in order to better understand the scope of the activity, as well as to provide a framework for the delivery of training and education services; 2) the promotion and demonstration of alternatives to mercury use, and especially those processes that are able to recover a significantly greater percentage of the gold content of the ore; and 3) the promotion of ASGM associations and cooperatives that are better able to implement the more efficient mercury-free gold recovery processes. Parties to the Minamata Convention are developing National Action Plans that will outline how they intend to phase out the use of mercury in ASGM, among other measures. As these plans become available, authorities across agencies and regions may find in them possibilities for measures to adopt for their specific situations. Countries dealing with mercury use in ASGM may benefit from better control of the production and marketing of gold and the harmonization of gold-export regimes to the extent possible to reduce the drivers of illicit cross-border trade. Other governance strategies may include: Governance strategies

Knowledge and information strategies

A review of the documentation of mercury imports and exports shows that many countries are either not carefully

• Standardized regional mercury-specific trade frameworks • Anti-corruption campaigns at the local and national levels

The Illegal Trade in Chemicals


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