Can the Rotterdam Convention be Saved?

Thu, Apr 20, 2017

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Kathleen Ruff, RightOnCanada.ca

For more than a decade the asbestos industry has blocked the wishes of the rest of the world and refused to allow chrysotile asbestos to be put on the Rotterdam Convention’s list of hazardous substances.

Chrysotile asbestos meets all the Convention’s criteria for listing. Thirty-two scientists from every region of the world, who make up the Convention’s expert scientific committee, have repeatedly recommended that chrysotile asbestos be put on the Convention’s list of hazardous substances.

The right to Prior Informed Consent that the Convention provides has been rendered null and void by a tiny group who profit from asbestos export and the Convention is in crisis.

At the 7th Conference of the Parties in 2015 (COP7) a special Inter-Sessional Working Group was created to try to resolve the crisis of industry interests preventing the Convention from being implemented. Their report will be discussed at the 8th Conference of the Parties (COP8) in Geneva April 24 – May 5, 2017.

Thirty-three countries appointed government representatives to be members of the special Inter-Sessional Working Group. Almost all these countries named one or two representatives. Russia, which is a leader in creating the crisis in the Convention, appointed seven representatives.

Involvement of the asbestos lobby

Fifteen asbestos lobby organisations, who are leaders in creating the crisis in the Convention, named representatives to be non-governmental organisation members of the Inter-Sessional Working Group. These members were:

  • Mr. Nurlan Omarov, Confederation of Employers of Kazakhstan
  • Mr. Adilson Conceiçao Santana, Federação Internacional dos Trabalhadores do Amianto Crisotila (FITAC)
  • Mr. Dmitrii Selyanin, International Alliance of Trade Union Organizations “Chrysotile”
  • Mr. Emiliano Alonso, International Chrysotile Association
  • Mr. Clément Godbout, International Chrysotile Association
  • Mr. Jean-Marc Leblond; International Chrysotile Association
  • Mr. Marcondes Braga De Moraes, Instituto Brasileiro do Crisotila (IBC)
  • Mr. Antonio Galván Carriles, Instituto Mexicano de Fibroindustria A.C.
  • Mr. Emilio Ferreira Junior, Federação dos Trabalhadores da Construção de São Paulo (FETICOM)
  • Dr. G Vivekanand, The Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers’ Association
  • Dr. Vivek Chandra Rao Sripalle, The Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers’ Association
  • Mr. Arun Kumar Saraf, The Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers’ Association
  • Mr. Ruslan Koval, Ukrainian Chrysotile Corporation
  • Mr. Shame Chibvongodze, Zimbabwe National Chrysotile Taskforce
  • Mr. Humphrey Mapuranga, Zimbabwe National Chrysotile Taskforce

It is not surprising that the Inter-Sessional Working Group was unable to come to an agreement on how to resolve the crisis created by a powerful industry not permitting the rights in the Convention to be implemented.

Which countries are exporting asbestos?

The world’s four asbestos-mining countries produced 1,799,700 metric tons of chrysotile asbestos in 2015, according to estimates produced by the United States Geological Survey, with Russia producing 1,100,000 tons, Brazil 310,000 tons, China 210,000 tons and Kazkhstan 179,700 tons.

These four countries exported 844,232 tons of chrysotile asbestos in 2015, which is 47% of their total production. Russia exported 527,213 tons, Kazakhstan 168,498 tons, Brazil 114,509 tons and China 31,632 tons. The remaining 53% of the asbestos they mined was apparently used domestically or stockpiled.

Russia and Kazakhstan represent 82% of all asbestos export. They are hoping to increase their asbestos export to Asia and, for this reason, are using every means possible to keep chrysotile asbestos off the Rotterdam Convention’s list of hazardous substances.

Kazakhstan’s only asbestos mine, the Kostanai mine, has the fifth biggest deposit of chrysotile asbestos in the world. It currently has a production capacity of 400 thousand tons of chrysotile asbestos per year. Kostanai Minerals, owner of the Kostanai mine, says: “Our goal is to become a champion in the chrysotile industry.”

In an interview in April 2016, Yerbol Nurkhozhayev, the CEO of Kostanai Minerals, was asked: “By the way, I cannot but ask you a safety related question. There is an opinion that the chrysotile is a hazardous substance?”

Nurkhozhayev responded:

“In 2015, the Parties of Rotterdam Convention arrived at a conclusion that chrysotile is not dangerous for human health, if safety rules and standards are observed. Chrysotile was not included into the list of toxic substances, so the chrysotile industry may further develop both in Kazakhstan and in the world.” Yerbol Nurkhozhayev, the CEO of Kostanai Minerals,

This statement completely misrepresents the facts by claiming that the Parties to Rotterdam Convention concluded that chrysotile asbestos is not dangerous for human health.

Plans to increase asbestos export

Kostanai Minerals plans to increase production and export, saying: “Competition will remain intense and the producers are likely to offer discounted prices in order to enter new markets and to attract new customers. Also, we have had to revise our pricing policy for some markets. Being an export-oriented company, we expect positive results in 2016 over the strong dollar.”

Ninety per cent of exported asbestos is used for asbestos-cement roofing and pipes in the construction industry.

Nurlan Omarov, who attended COP7 in 2015 and who was a member of the Inter-Sessional Working Group,is a consultant to the Kostanai asbestos mine and represents its interests internationally. He is also a Director of the International Chrysotile Association, which is based in Quebec.

Kanat Kopbayev is another Director of the International Chrysotile Association and also represents the Kostanai asbestos mine. Kopbayev is also a director and one of the founding members of a powerful, global company involved in international trade, Kusto Group.

Kusto Group was created by entrepreneurs in Kazakhstan, who took over the management of the Kostanai chrysotile asbestos mine in Kazakhstan and the Orenburg chrysotile asbestos mine in Russia and were successful in greatly increasing the productivity and profitability of both mines.  Now headquartered in Singapore, Kusto Group owns more than 30 companies worldwide and operates in nine countries: Vietnam, China, Thailand, Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Turkey, Georgia and Israel. Its turnover for 2015 was more than one billion US dollars.

In December 2016, Kusto’s Chairman, Yerkin Tatishev, stated that Vietnam, in particular, is a key growth driver for Kusto. The company is heavily involved in construction in Vietnam and Kusto’s cement firms supply about 60 per cent of the market in central Vietnam, or up to four million tonnes of cement per year.

Russia and Kazakhstan pursuing trade deals in Asia

Russia and Kazakhstan are negotiating free trade agreements with Asia which, it seems, will help increase their export of asbestos to Asia.

News media in Vietnam reported on January 15, 2017 that at a forum promoting increased trade between Kazakhstan and Vietnam, at which the Kusto Group played a prominent role, Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Vu Van Ninh and Kazakhstan’s Deputy Prime Minister Aset Issekeshev signed an agreement to establish a joint business council and expressed the hope for a free trade agreement soon between Vietnam and Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus.

Russia and Kazakhstan are also negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with India. According to a Report on the negotiations, amongst “the most important potential benefits” for Russia and Kazakhstan of the “full tariff liberalization” would be the opportunity for increased sales of asbestos.

In a statement released on April 6, 2017, the Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP) urged the Environment Secretary of the Philippines to ignore the lobbying efforts of the Russian embassy to prevent the listing of chrysotile asbestos at the Rotterdam Convention upcoming Conference.

“People in developing countries, where the asbestos industry is shipping Chrysotile, deserve to be warned of the hazards. The Right to Prior Informed Consent contained in the Rotterdam Convention is a basic human right, which must be guaranteed,” said Gerard Seno, national executive vice president of ALU-TUCP.

Proposed amendment by twelve African countries

At COP8, a proposal by African countries  to amend the Convention so as to allow decisions to list hazardous substances to be taken by a 75% majority vote as a last resort, if consensus proves impossible, will be on the agenda.

It is a virtual certainty that Russia and Kazakhstan, and a handful of countries under their influence, will refuse consensus once again to list chrysotile asbestos at COP8. The proposed amendment from the twelve African countries represents the only possibility of ending the ability of the asbestos industry, or other hazardous industries, to block the rights in the Convention from becoming reality.

The amendment can be approved by a 75% vote at COP8. If the amendment is not approved, then the killing of the rights in the Convention by the asbestos industry that we have witnessed for the past decade will be able to continue endlessly, sending a clear message that the right of Prior Informed Consent is not a right at all, but is only available if the hazardous industry in question permits it.

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