The Illegal Trade in Chemicals

As a result of the ongoing demand for mercury in the face of the gradually reduced supply, the market price has risen and new mercury mining is taking place especially in Mexico and Indonesia (UNEP 2017). The legal restrictions and increased scrutiny, along with the related higher administrative procedures and costs, have given traders and middlemen an incentive to bypass the normal controls, especially where they see weaknesses in monitoring or enforcement systems. Moreover, the need to transport mercury to remote regions for ASGM provides a further incentive to identify the fastest and cheapest solutions, which are often undocumented or illegal. Much of the mercury trade has therefore been pushed out of sight, and undocumented or illegal transfers of mercury have increased, stimulated by the considerable profits to be made.

for those who would prefer not to use mercury, the mercury- free alternatives may be unknown, less accessible, more expensive or simply inconvenient. Many ASGM operations are part of the informal economy – undocumented, but not in violation of legislation. Illegal trade in mercury, in contrast, is trade that violates existing laws on the import, marketing or use of mercury. In one case, a German company illegally exported large quantities of mercury – fraudulently characterized as waste material – to Switzerland. Customs agents in Indonesia and the Philippines have intercepted Indonesian mercury and cinnabar (mercury ore) smuggled in shipping containers. Mercury from China has appeared illegally in sub-Saharan Africa and Myanmar (World Bank 2016). Undocumented Mexican mercury moves across the country’s southern border. Large quantities of mercury imported by Colombia and Bolivia are transferred illegally to neighbouring countries such as Peru. Most of these activities are linked to the continued demand for mercury in the ASGM sector.

Meanwhile, ASGM operators have come to rely heavily on mercury, and many remain unaware of its toxic effects. Even

The Illegal Trade in Chemicals


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