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Analysis

Hong Kong Convention in way of ban on toxic exports

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Oct 20, 2011 | From the print edition

Could prove the death knell for Basel Convention

The second day of the Basel convention saw a few drafts being introduced for discussion. One of them was on e-waste. The European Union emphasised the importance of providing inputs for guidelines on the mercury negotiations, scheduled later in the year, and on defining waste and non-waste.

The Implementation and Compliance Committee (ICC) introduced a draft decision on increased capacity to address cases of non-compliance or difficulty in complying with the Basel Convention. This was supported by Switzerland, Norway and Colombia as well as the Interpol, which welcomed the committee's recommendation to create a partnership on preventing and combating illegal traffic. The EU, however, seemed non- committal and pitched for a non-binding proposal.

The EU also seemed confused on what stand to take on export of hazardous material. On one hand it pushed for the Ban Amendment, on the other hand it supported the Hong Kong Convention that allows a ship full of asbestos and polychlorinated biphenyls  to be exported. The Hong Kong Convention was adopted by 63 states in 2009 but they are yet to ratify it.

While the Ban Amendment proposed ban on exports of all forms of hazardous waste from the 29 wealthiest countries of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to non-OECD countries, the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships allows export of hazardous substances by stating that at the time of recycling it should be ensured that it does not pose any unnecessary risk to human health and safety or to the environment.

The EU was supported by Japan, China, Denmark and the US. They stated that the Hong Kong Convention provided for a level of enforcement, equivalent to that of the Basel Convention. The International Ship Recyclers Association supported the Hong Kong Convention as it focused on sound ship recycling and strict regulations for ship recycling facilities. 

These claims were refuted by the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Nigeria and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). The Platform for Ship Breaking, a global coalition of human rights, environmental and labour rights groups, said the Hong Kong Convention did not reflect the primary obligation of the Basel Convention and it did not prevent trans-boundary movement of asbestos and heavy metals.

It was decided that the matter would be discussed within a contact group. The decision on the Ban Amendment at the contact group meeting of Indonesian-Swiss country-led initiative (CLI) was also put on hold on day two of the CoP 10 meeting. CLI was introduced to improve effectiveness of the Basel Convention. The CLI draft decision includes three mutually supportive elements: entry into force of the Ban Amendment; environmentally sound management (ESM) of hazardous wastes; and legal clarity around key Convention provisions.
 

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