Rotterdam Convention meet: no consensus on including herbicide paraquat in the prior informed consent list

120 nations had agreed to the listing, but India and Gautemala played spoilsport

By Soma Basu
Published: Saturday 11 May 2013

After having reversed its stand on the inclusion of white asbestos under Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention, India has now opposed the listing of paraquat as a severely hazardous pesticide formulation in the same category.

Substances listed under Annex III of the Convention—a global treaty to promote shared responsibilities in relation to import of hazardous chemicals—require exporting countries to advise importing countries about the toxicity of the substances so that importers can give their prior informed consent (PIC) for trade. The Convention does not ban or limit trade in such hazardous substances.

At the 6th Conference of Parties (COP6) to the Convention in Geneva, more than 120 nations (parties) had acquiesced to the listing of paraquat, a toxic compound used as a herbicide in diluted form. However, India and Guatemala opposed the move.

Paraquat dichloride, commonly known as paraquat, can cause poisoning in a person within a few hours to a few weeks, depending on the severity and mode of exposure. It can be absorbed through the skin, inhalation and ingestion and affects the lungs, liver and kidneys. In sufficiently large amounts, it can cause acute poisoning, resulting in death.
Guatemala misrepresented

During the conference, the joint secretariat introduced the agenda for listing paraquat. Co-chair Al-Easa reported that the drafting group agreed that the Convention’s procedural and technical aspects were met, but there was no consensus on listing.

Guatemala gave a long list of initial reasons for opposing the listing, but finally admitted that they feared a listing would result in some countries in the region saying no to imports of paraquat from Guatemala (a major formulator of the herbicide). Delegates were even more surprised when they finally learned that the delegate speaking on behalf of the Guatemalan government at the beginning of the negotiation was actually an industry observer, who did not reveal his identity to negotiators until a day later.

The secretariat later on expelled him from the conference. Nevertheless, the co-chairs of the working group concluded that no consensus for listing was achieved and proceeded to draft a decision document postponing the discussion to the next COP. The next day the African Group supported by others requested that the discussion on the listing of paraquat continue at this COP because the misconduct of the industry representative from Guatemala had derailed the process. However, this additional session did not change the position of India and Guatemala.

Zambia, on behalf of the African Group, and supported by Switzerland, Cuba and Malaysia, requested the contact group to reconvene to deliberate further. Norway agreed and said that discussions were “disturbed by the misconduct” of one person who “misrepresented himself” on behalf of Guatemala. India disagreed that the criteria to list were met because there was no information regarding alternatives.

Illogical motive

In India, paraquat dichloride is imported for manufacturing the formulation through dilution for usage as herbicide. The density of imported product is 1.24 - 1.26 g/ ml. As this is higher than the proposed threshold limit for listing, India did not support the inclusion of this chemical in Annex III of Rotterdam Convention in the plenary meeting. The delegation also argued that there is no scientific basis for the stated threshold limit in the proposal.

“It is shocking. There is no logic in what India said about not listing paraquat. The inclusion is a formulation, not the technical grade so we wouldn’t have had any issues. Inclusion in the list just means that while importing paraquat, India has to give prior informed consent. It is not ban,” says C Jayakumar, director of Thanal Conservation Action and Information Network, a non-profit.

Parties discussed the issue in a contact group. Later that evening, co-chair Hansen reported that the group had failed to reach consensus on listing paraquat. Delegates then “virtually” adopted the draft decision to further consider at COP7 the inclusion of paraquat under Annex III of the Convention.

“We thought governments would rapidly approve the listing of paraquat considering that it met all Convention requirements,” said Francois Meienberg of the Swiss NGO, Berne Declaration. “Unfortunately, industry deception and false arguments derailed the process and the inability to list the substance threatens the integrity of the Convention.”

Toxic herbicide

The proposal to list the paraquat formulation was made by Burkina Faso, a west African country, due to the large number of human poisonings related to the use of the Syngenta product, Gramoxone Super (Paraquat 20 per cent). The Convention’s chemical review committee (CRC) analysed the proposal by Burkina Faso and unanimously supported the listing of the paraquat formulation as a severely hazardous pesticide. Abundant documentation proving that conditions in Burkina Faso are similar to those in other countries and regions was made available to review committee. For example, in El Salvador, an average of 344 poisoning due to Gramoxone were reported per year from 2005-2010.

Paraquat is prohibited in more than 40 countries, including Switzerland, the home country of Syngenta, the main manufacturer. “Paraquat is one of the world’s worst herbicides,” said Meriel Watts, International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) and Pesticide Action Network. “A teaspoon of paraquat is enough to kill a person and there is no antidote. Farmers all over the world suffer from skin burns, blindness, and respiratory damage as a result of using paraquat.”


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