A hazardous voorkshop

The Dakar workshop on toxic-waste trade left both the exporting countries and green activists fuming

Published: Sunday 30 April 1995

Belligerence afloat: a Greenpe (Credit: Greenpeace)THE dirty linen of the developed countries was brought out in the open and, as expected, created a furore. The setting was the 3-day workshop on the Basel Convention held in Dakar, Senegal, between March 15-17. Green activism had already heated up the debate on the transboundary movement of hazardous waste, which the Basel Convention govems, since early February.

The acrimony was toxic, and almost turned the workshop into a battlefield. Denmark, however, diffused the crisis by offering to convene an "informal advisory group" at Copenhagen in May to hold further dialogues in a search for common grounds. In the end, hosts Senegal took a stand, which led to the workshop discussing the technical problems of implementing the ban.

The workshop was to discuss the decision taken in March, 1994, at the 2nd Conference of Parties (cop) in Geneva by the 65 signatories of the Convention, to ban shipments of waste from the 25 most industrialised nations which make up the Organisation of Economic Cooperanon and 't Development (OECD), to non-OECD countries. Waste being transported solely for disposatwas to be banned immediately, while trade in recyclable waste would be banned after 1997.

Greenpeace International had been claiming for the last few months that the toxic imperialists, especially the United States, Canada, Australia and Germany were setting up this "us $250,000 workshop" to overturn the ban. So, the fuse vm easily lit when the us and its allies came to Dakar armed with a host of iodustry representatives and vigorously lobbied against the ban which, they declared, was "undermining the envijamentally sound management of hazardous waste."

The green groups had their hackles raised since early February, when 2 confidential White House doc34ments bearing incriminating evidence against the Clinton administration were reportedly leaked. The 1st, dated October 1994, was a draft Basel Convention Action Plan. "the us government officidls will... engage in a range of activities to pro- mote the us view that categorical trade bans are undesirable from an environ- mental as well as trade standpoint and that the OECD/non-OECD ban should be modified," it said. Even more serious wag its directive that "It will be appropriate for the us to work quietly on some issues and let other parties... take the lead".

The 2nd "leak" was a memorandum to the Clinton administration from Rafe Pomerance, deputy assistant secretary for environment and development. Pornerance, former president of the well-known environmental NGO, Friends of the Earth, argues that before ratifying the Basel Convention the us should ensure that the charter is amended to permit shipments of waste so long as the exporting and importing countries agree mutually, and it is managed using environmentally sound methods.

The us is yet to sign the Basel agreement. Pornerance also says that by not including "such a fundamental change" as the ban in the Convention, it had been given merely a political, not a legal status.

The environmentalists accused the us of launching an evil campaign to tear apart the Convention. Denmark, on the other hand, felt that the only way the toxic imperialists could be subdued was by legalising the ban and making it binding. But its efforts to push thriough an amendment on this count have been resisted fiercely.

The rest of the European Community members, with the exception of Finland and Sweden, are hostile to this idea. Backed by Germany, which has a thriving business in waste export, they have $tressed that no individual member has the right to propose an amend- ment. Denmark has even been threatened with legal action if it does not abandon its stand.

So the atmosphere was crackling with tension on the eve of the Dakar workshop. Greenpeace also pro- duced another secret document from the International Chamber of Commerce's (icc) Paris headquarters regarding its determination to "use" the workshop to reverse the ban. Greenpeace activists took to the streets in Paris on March 14, putting up banners and dumping huge piles of waste before the entrance to the icc office.

But the toxic imperialists did not have their way in Dakar, after all. Bakary Kante, director of Senegal's environment ministry, playing the referee, stubbornly stuck to the earlier official statement which said that Senegal was not prepared to "reopen the discussions on the ban that took place last March". However, in its final statemeAft the workshop emphasised that there is an "urgent need to accelerate the process to resolve definitions".

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